Mental Illness

Mental Illness – A Brief Look
Help for Churches

Mental Illness: Statistics

The chances that you do not know anyone with a mental illness are very slim unless you live the life of a hermit:

  • One in four people, worldwide, will develop some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives.1
  • In 2010, 6% of all those between the ages of 21 and 64, living in the community in the United States were diagnosed with a mental illness.2
  • Approximately 4.5 to 6.3 million children and adolescents in the United States have a serious emotional disturbance that undermines their present functioning and imperils their future.3

Who is the person with mental illness? It could be your co-worker; neighbor; fellow church member; sibling; parent; child; spouse; or, YOU! The World Health Organization estimates that mental and neurological disorders are the leading cause of ill health and disability globally.4

  • One key is to get proper medical help and to continue with the prescribed treatment plan.
  • 75% of mental illnesses appear by the age of 24, yet less than half of children with diagnosable mental health problems receive treatment (in U.S.)5
  • 22% of 14 to 17 year olds (in the U.S.) have witnessed a shooting in their lifetime. Research shows that exposure to community violence can impact children’s mental health and development. Mental health services should be funded so that schools can address pervasive violence.6
  • The average budget for mental health from the total health budgets for world countries remains less than 3% while mental disorders cause about 13% of the total burden. Most low and middle-income countries spend less than 2% of their budgets on mental health.7
  • Africa has one psychiatrist for nine million people and Asia has two psychiatrists for 29 million people8
  • Nurses available in mental hospitals (per 100,000 population)9
    • Africa – 0.12
    • Americas – 1.43
    • Southeastern Asia – 0.03
    • Europe – 17.67
    • Eastern Mediterranean – 1.31
    • Western Pacific – 0.11
    • World – 0.79
  • Nurses available in mental hospitals (proportion out of total nurses by country, income group)10
    • Low income – 0.56
    • Lower middle – 1.54
    • Upper middle – 3.58
    • High – 4.96
    • World – 1.67


Mental Illnesses: The Stigma

Mental Illnesses are the “taboo diseases” – we don’t want to discuss them; we don’t want to hear about them.  Every time something really bad happens, people think it must be because of mental illness.This is the prevailing thought – in the United States, anyway.

A survey yielded the following percentages of Americans reporting they are definitely or probably unwilling to have a person with mental illness11:

  • Move next door = 38%
  • Spend an evening socializing with them = 56%
  • Make friends with them = 33%
  • Work closely with them = 58%
  • Marry into their family = 68%

Attitudes in the United Kingdom were measured in surveys from 1994 to 2011. Below are the results of some of the items with percentages for 1994 and 2011 of those agreeing (answering “yes”) to the statements12:

  • Mental Health facilities in a residential area downgrade the neighborhood: 1994- 22%; 2011- 17%
  • It is frightening to think of people with mental problems living in residential neighborhoods: 1994-15%; 2011-12%
  • Do not want to live next door to someone who has been mentally ill: 1994-8%; 2011-11%
  • Woman would be foolish to marry a man who has suffered from mental illness even though he seems fully recovered: 1994-12%; 2011-13%
  • Anyone with a history of mental problems should be excluded from public office: 1994-29%; 2011-21%
  • People with mental illness are a burden on society: 1994-10%; 2011-6%
  • As soon as a person shows signs of mental disturbance, he should be hospitalized: 1994-19%; 2011-21%

One reason that people have such negative views about mental illness is because of the way the media presents mental illness, especially in the United States. In a June 2009 article, the American Psychological Association reported on the way newspaper articles mentioned mental illness in the United States, Iceland and Germany. The results were quite revealing13:

  • Articles Mentioning Mental Illness and Violence
    • United States = 50%
    • Iceland = 32%
    • Germany = 18%
  • Articles Mentioning Mental Illness and Criminals
    • United States = 34%
    • Iceland = 14%
    • Germany = 18%

Perhaps if more positive news articles were written in regards to mental illnesses in the United States, there would be fewer instances of people with mental disorders in the news causing violent crimes. The number of people with mental illness who commit violent crimes is low, yet the number of newspaper articles mentioning mental illness and violence in the U.S. is at 50%.


Mental Illness: What Can Churches Do?

United Methodist churches need to remember that we are to have to have “open hearts, open minds and open doors.” Scripture reminds us that we are all part of one body (I Corinthians 12) in the service of Christ. We are also told that this body has many parts. Not everyone looks the same or functions the same; yet, we are all loved by the same God, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. We all are His Children and are of the same value to Him. We need to remember that just because someone has a disease or disability that affects one part of the body, that individual is still a worthwhile person of value to the kingdom. It does not matter whether the disease or disability affects the heart, kidneys, bones or brain – they are all parts of the same body! The first and most important thing any church or individual can do is to be welcoming and show the love of christ to all.

We also must learn to use Appropriate Language when addressing people with mental illnesses or the topic of mental illness. Words matter.What we call someone; how we address a person, often determines how that individual sees himself/herself. Our words may shape how an individual sees who he/she is. This is especially true in dealing with someone who has mental illness. We need to be sure that we do not use negative terms such as: “lunatic,” “nut,” or “psycho.” We should also never refer to someone as a “victim” or say the person “is afflicted with a mental illness.” Instead, we should use people first language and, if it is necessary to say they have a mental illness, say, “John has” and name the mental illness. (Be sure you have permission from “John” to do so, of course.)

Our Social Principles, as recorded in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, state: “…mental illness often are feared in ways that other illnesses are not. Nevertheless, we know that regardless of our illness we remain created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). No person deserves to be stigmatized because of mental illness.”14

The church should recognize the worth of all individuals. Many people with mental illness feel devalued; worthless. The church is the one place that people with mental illnesses feel they should be able to find love and acceptance, surely, as Disciples of Christ we should be open to this challenge. Some suggestions for congregations include:

  • Have an annual Disability Awareness Sunday15
  • Educate your congregation about mental illness via bulletin inserts (see links below), workshops, special speakers, and your annual Disability Awareness Sundays
  • Respite Care programs can provided needed help to families caring for a loved one with a severe mental illness that requires the individual to be homebound. They will let you know how you can help. It may be something as simple as a visit; a phone call; or allowing them to go to the grocery store while you sit with the family member while he/she sleeps. Some small membership churches have a card ministry where they send out cards once a month to families who have to stay at home to care for family members. This is a wonderful way to allow members to know that they are remembered and that the family member being cared for is a person of worth!
  • The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church 2012, tells us that we need the following response: “John Wesley’s ministry was grounded in the redemptive ministry of Christ with its focus on healing that involved spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical aspects. His concern for the health of those to whom he ministered led him to create medical services at no cost to those who were poor and in deep need, refusing no one for any reason. He saw health as extending beyond simple biological well-being to wellness of the whole person. His witness of love to those in need of healing is our model for ministry to those suffering from mental illness.”16 While there are many individual churches that have excellent examples of Wesley’s “witness of love” ministry today, the North Alabama Conference has a program called “Bridge Builders” that offers churches the opportunity to receive recognition for putting this witness into action. Churches have to meet a few basic requirements (application form may be viewed on the conference website) and they will be granted Bridge Builder status for the current conference year. The NAC convener/chair of disABILITY Ministries, Deb Wade, says that this helps the churches to stay focused on disability ministries and Wesley’s “witness of love” to help others regardless of their need, social status or ability to pay. Wade believes that for a church to be a Bridge Builder indicates that the congregation is witnessing that they are “Disciples of Christ, reaching out to the world sharing the Love that Christ bestowed on them.”17
  • Support – Realize that those with mental illness are no more violent than other persons are. Instead, they are much more likely to be victims of violence or preyed on by others. When stigma happens within the church, people with mental illness and their families are further victimized.18 In the United States, people with disabilities are four to ten times more likely to be victimized than those without disabilities.19
  • Be advocates. Speak up and speak out on issues that affect persons with mental illness and their families that are amenable to legislative remedy. Advocate for specific individuals that may be caught up in bureaucratic difficulties.20


Some Mental Illness Links:

United Methodist Committee on Disability Ministries

Bulletin Inserts on Mental Illness from Pathways to Promise:

North Carolina Conference Mental Health Resource page:

Tips for Caregivers:

For Better or Worse: A Couple's Journey with Mental Illness

Gifts of the Shadow

Teenage Depression and Suicide

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)




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2  - 2012 Annual Disability Statistics Compendium (available for download at

3  - 2012 American Psychological Association

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11 Martin, J.K., Pescosolido, B.A., & Tuch, S.A. (2000). Of fear and loathing: The role of “disturbing behavior,” labels, and causal attributions in shaping public attitudes toward people with mental illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 208-223

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14  - The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶162X

15  - The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶262

16  - The Book of Resolution of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶3303.4, p.411

17  - Personal Notes, Deb Wade, Somerville, AL 35670

18  - The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶162X

19  - Centers for Disease Control,

20  - The Book of Resolution of the United Methodist Church 2012, ¶3303.4.2, p.413

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