(Photo: North Boulevard Church of Christ)
Three Christian churches in Murfreesboro, Tenn., are tackling the stigma that accompanies mental illness through their Celebrate Recovery programs by offering support to members of their churches and community who suffer from unstable mental health.
Those with mental disorders have found the group meetings to be a safe haven where they can shed their shame and feel embraced.
"There is always reluctance among most to share their issues of life," said Bill Peters, ministry leader for Celebrate Recovery, and who spoke on behalf of the churches. "Denial is at the heart of our American culture because we have been brought up to believe that we can be independent of others."
The outreach programs at North Boulevard Church of Christ, Belle Aire Baptist and New Vision Baptist also serve people who are recovering from addictions, life-threatening illnesses and other issues.
During the weekly group meetings, organizers aim to create a relax environment and focus on fellowship among the individuals who learn about God's healing power through eight recovery principles based on the Bible's beatitudes.
One of the biggest myths about dealing with the pain behind mental illness, said Peters, is that people have to get over their issues before connecting with a church or support group. That is why all three congregations focus on supporting individuals rather than trying to "fix" them, which allows attendees to open up about their issues without hesitation.
However, Peters understands that some Christians may not come forward with their disorder out of fear of rejection.
"Our American church culture has not always been a comfortable place where people can air their issues and find understanding…this is changing with Celebrate Recovery which is now in over 20,000 churches in America," said Peters.
Since 1991, the program, which began at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, has helped thousands. Much like the Tennessee-based churches, congregations nationwide are creating dialogue about mental disorders among their members who might be afraid to speak up. However, among some Christians, the topic still remains taboo as some argue that Christians should find sufficient help in God rather than in therapy and medical treatment.
Conversations about mental illness among evangelicals has also been sparked by the news of by the death of Pastor Rick Warren's son, Matthew, and pastors committing suicide in recent months.
Support groups like Celebrate Recovery and the network of national churches that offer help will continue to do their part to prevent such tragedies, said Peters.
"We stress to all that come that each of us have a dependence upon one Higher Power and that is Jesus Christ…through this, we begin to grow spiritually and eventually freed from our hurts, habits and hang-ups. The truth is that God loves you and me just as we are," said Peters.