Book Review – Mental Health and Your Church: A Handbook for Biblical Care.

Book Review

Helen Thorne and Dr Steve Midgley, Mental Health and Your Church: A Handbook for Biblical Care. Good Book Company, 2023. 191pp.

Mental health and mental illness are topics high on the agenda of our society and the health system is overwhelmed. The Covid pandemic only served to increase the number of people struggling with depression and anxiety. Other people live with complicated conditions such as OCD, bi-polar, or schizophrenia. Easily, in the face of such conditions we don’t quite know what to say or do. Can we actually help someone with mental illness, or is that the domain of health professionals only? Can the church make a difference? If we personally suffer from mental illness, can we expect the church community to be part of our core network of support?

This book casts a vision for what the church can do to help people with mental unwellness. The two authors from the UK bring to bear a wealth of pastoral, counselling and professional experience. They recognise that in a fallen world like ours mental unwellness will be the norm, not the exception. They also recognize the value and importance of health professionals (including counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists). But what they major on is what the church community can do to help. They show that if we are informed and intentional, we can do a lot. You can, your small group can, pastors and carers can, and the church as a whole can.

In the first section, the book maps the landscape of mental illness, viewing psychiatric diagnoses as descriptions rather than explanations; seeing all of us on the continuum of struggling mentally so that we are in this together; outlining some of the common drugs and therapies used; and explaining something of the human heart and the complex interrelationship of our bodies, minds, emotions, and the world we live in.

The second section explores what we can do to help, mapping what is achievable in most churches. The focus falls on helping people feel welcomed by raising awareness of common struggles; helping people feel loved by relating to them in Christ-like ways; helping struggling people remember their true identity in Christ; helping them become more like Jesus whatever their struggles; and helping them persevere by means of the provision of resources from the wider church (see p69). Each of these themes is opened up in practical, grace-filled, wise and caring ways. While in some ways it all seems so obvious, the picture presented is one that is often not realized in the local church. But it needs to be and these chapters will help.

The final section of the book addresses several specific areas of difficulty: anxiety, depression, addiction, and psychosis, concluding with a chapter on caring for carers. Each area is discussed using case studies that help present practical and realistic ways of making a difference.

I highly recommend this very readable book not only to pastors and elders, deacons and care team members, but to all church members. All of us can contribute to making the church a place of care, grace and growth for the many among us who find life hard.