People are talking about mental illness, depression, and anxiety right now, and that’s a good thing. Recently, Carlos Whittaker wrote a thoughtful blog post, “My Panic Attacks, My Mental Illness, And The Church’s Dirty Little Secret,” which, at the time of this writing, has received 181 comments.

Unfortunately, people simply don’t understand mental struggles like depression and panic attacks unless they or someone in their family experience them. Each one of us in my family deal with depression, anxiety, or both. I’m no expert, but I believe this is hereditary. Both my wife’s parents have dealt with these issues. My mom would never have admitted to having depression or anxiety, but I clearly remember her taking her “nerve pills.” Several of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family have also suffered. 
I believe leaders in our churches need to better understand and learn how to more effectively deal with mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety. “Just get over it” does not help. “Maybe you just need to pray more” and “If you just had more faith …” are not real answers. My family has heard these and other religious cliches that reveal a lack of both understanding and empathy.

Jesus, on the other hand, treated people with compassion. Others, including Jesus’ followers, often did not understand people’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual brokenness, which led them to push these people to the fringes of society. Jesus stood out by touching–physically and emotionally–these people, listening to them, caring about them, and bringing wholeness.

How do you treat people in your group who deal with mental or emotional disorders? Do you treat them differently than those who have physical disease? When people tell me to “just get over” my Type-1 diabetes, which I’ve had for more than 40 years, or when they give me the latest cure-all (eat cinnamon!), or when they tell me that if I just had more faith, I’d be cured of my diabetes (see what Jesus said about that in John 9:1-3), I realize they are simply ignorant.

Perhaps my attitude needs to change as much as theirs. Those of us who suffer from any number of afflictions, including the suffering that comes from others’ words, get to practice grace. We get to be like Jesus, and simply forgive them, since they really don’t know what they’re doing. We get the opportunity to love unconditionally, even when our brothers and sisters in Christ act like complete idiots. And that’s what living in authentic community within the Kingdom of God is all about.

OTHER POSTS RELATED TO DEALING WITH DIFFICULTIES IN A SMALL GROUP
How to Deal with the Person NO ONE Wants in their Group

Dilbert on Dealing with Challenging People in Your Group

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Michael Mack has led Small Group Leadership full-time since 2012, but has been involved in small group ministry for more than 25 years. He lives in Pewee Valley, Kentucky (just outside Louisville), with his wife Heidi. Their family small group, which includes their four young adult children, has much potential (and much anticipation) for future growth and multiplication. Michael enjoys mountain and road biking with a group of great friends who participate together in various charity rides. See the "About Michael Mack" page under About Us for more about him.

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One Comment

  1. Nathan123

    April 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

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