“They don’t understand that I struggle with mental health issues and go to a therapist.”
“I feel they judge me.”
I have received messages like these from people struggling with mental health challenges. This misunderstanding and judgment often experienced by those with mental health challenges is a phenomenon not limited to one specific country or culture.
In the Arab world where I live and serve, a mental health challenge can be seen as punishment from God, a source of shame, and something that should be hidden. Although more resources for mental health are being made available in Arabic, they are often not enough to reach the number of people who need them.
It is important to remember the Great Commission doesn’t exclude those with mental health challenges: all people are worthy of hearing the gospel and being discipled. If we are to be obedient to make disciples of all nations, the church must include these who may feel they are at the fringes of society.
Discipling People with Mental Health Challenges
Over the last few years, I have walked alongside some who have been diagnosed with or treated for bipolar disorder. A few years ago, I started to disciple Leah, teaching her how to study God’s Word. Leah grew up a Muslim, became a believer after seeing visions of Jesus, and has overcome many obstacles from a difficult past. She has bipolar disorder and experiences ups and downs from time to time.
God brought us together to study the Bible, and the journey has been enriching for both of us. From the beginning, Leah proved to be one of the most diligent people with whom I have studied the Bible. She did her homework, willingly took the time to study the material, and did quite well learning helpful tools for how to understand God’s Word. More than once, Leah remarked how much she had gained from our time together and how much she wanted others to learn the same.
The Need for Community
In a conversation with a friend who is a counselor, I asked how the church as a whole could better serve those with mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder. Her immediate response was the need people with bipolar disorder have for community. She emphasized how the Bible repeatedly talks about “one-anothering.” While doing my own search in Scripture, I found the Book of Romans delineates several ways Christians are to walk alongside one another:
- Love one another (Rom. 13:8)
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16)
- Edify (build up) one another (Rom. 14:19)
- Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
A Community of Faithful Friends
I am not the only person discipling Leah and investing in her life. She has a circle of trusted people she calls on who pray for her, encourage her with truth, and make time to listen. For her sake, I was glad she had more than one person walking alongside her because fulfilling the commands we read in the Book of Romans and obeying the Great Commission take more than one person.
Walking alongside Leah by discipling her has been a rewarding experience. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can tell you what I have learned while spending time with Leah:
- Leah is very willing to be discipled and study Scripture, and she has the capacity to learn biblical truths. Yes, individuals grow at different paces, but we should not present a watered-down gospel or shy away from encouraging them to grow as disciples.
- We all need a community of faithful friends through the ups and downs. Expecting one single person to be available 24-7 is unrealistic, which is why a community of people is needed. The practice of “one-anothering” as taught in the Bible should be learned and encouraged in the church.
- Relationships go both ways. Because Leah is Arab, she grew up in a culture similar to the one we find in the Old and New Testaments. As she and I study the Bible, she’s often able to bring a perspective that helps enrich my understanding of Scripture. I’ve also learned from her example of practicing spiritual disciplines and perseverance.
Discipleship requires our total commitment, whether or not someone is navigating mental health challenges like bipolar disorder.
We can include these individuals in numerous ways, from inviting them to join us for Bible study to finding ways to help them participate in missions activities. In doing so, we are not only walking in obedience to Christ’s commands, but we are also experiencing the blessing of walking alongside fellow believers.
The question we can ask ourselves is, Will we take that first step?
Ena Redding calls the Middle East home. She is passionate about seeing the church equipped to fulfill the Great Commission and has been blessed by brothers and sisters in Christ along the way.
Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.