Is past experience of church a barrier for persons with mental illness and their families?

I’ve been wrestling with the idea of revising a chapter in the book I’ve been writing on how churches can welcome and include individuals and families affected by mental illness.

In the book, we explore seven barriers to church attendance and participation for children, teens, adults and families impacted by mental illness.

  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Social communication
  • Self-control
  • Sensory processing
  • Stigma
  • Family members with mental illness

I suspect that past experiences of church may be a major barrier to current church involvement for many adults with a history of mental illness or parents of children or teens with significant mental health conditions. There’s not an enormous amount of research to support or refute that hypothesis. Matthew Stanford’s group at Baylor reported a sizable number for adults who approach their churches for help as a result of a mental health condition have such negative experiences that they report either a weakening of faith or an end to their church involvement. When we offered our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit in 2014, a survey of conference participants reported that 61% of our attendees with a disability or a family member were unable to attend church at some point as a result of that disability.

I have three questions for readers of our blog with personal experience of a mental health condition, or a loved one with a mental health condition. Please post your responses below in the “Comments” section, especially if they might serve as an encouragement to others or might be helpful to churches seeking to offer more effective ministry to persons impacted by mental illness.

Have you (or someone you know) had an experience related to a mental health condition impacting either yourself, a family member or a friend that led you (or them) to stop attending church?

What happened that was so hurtful? 

What would a congregation have to say or do to get someone who drifted away because of their experience with a mental health condition (or with a loved one with a mental health condition) to consider giving church another try?

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