Our 22 year old daughter began exhibiting serious mental health problems when she was in 8th grade. Our family was going through several major crisises at that time including a job loss, two youngest entering public school from homeschooling. Our resources were strapped to say the least. We attended a small church in our college town. We found very little support from the leadership at the church except “We will pray for you.” Adults who had known her since 3rd grade that could have reached out, instead withdrew, and began to encourage her peers to not spend time with her. We later found out that many of these peers had bullied her for several years with many adult church leaders knowledge and without sharing these concerns with us. We also found that the longer she struggled emotionally and spiritually the less welcome we felt, and many people verbally stated her problem was a spiritual problem. A few close friends walked with us and prayed with us through the tears, but the youth ministry was woefully inept to come along and step into her life and help her. As she now recounts bitterly, “They were too busy trying to save me, that they ignored the things I needed the most like friendships.”
We eventually left the church for a different church where she felt more welcomed by adults and peers, but many peers thought of her only as that “troubled girl” from school. The youth leaders did more to make her feel welcomed, but still had very little resources or understanding of mental health issues. Church and youth group had the air of being a place for the “good kids.”
After high school during her second year at college, we discovered the long term mental health problems were tied in with several undiagnosed severe health problems that almost led to her death. Two years later, she still suffers from severe chronic pain with no immediate good prognosis. Unable to work or finish school, she again is in a no mans land regarding church.
Her physical health and mental health problems have left her feeling abandoned again by her “Christian” peers at church. She again is percieved as being “lost” and needing “fixing” instead of someone who needs to be shown the unconditional love of Christ.
Her belief system is no longer in line with our conservative but grace and gospel orientated church, which no doubt is part of the disconnect. But I have to wonder if instead of trying to force a young woman/teen with mental and physical health into a stereotyped role, if more understanding how her mental health problems affect her thinking if this disconnect would not have occurred.
I have failed in many ways, but I truly hope the church can become a place where broken people can find hope, love, grace, and patience. This needs to be preached and practiced from the pulpit to the nursery.