Youth Pastor Who Tried to End His Life: ‘The Church Could Learn A Lot From The Psych Ward’

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Steve Austin, author of  From “Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible,” said churches should help foster an open and honest community for people with mental health issues. Pastors shouldn’t try to play psychiatrists or psychologists because these issues require a professional’s help. Instead, Austin said the church can encourage open communication about the illness through prayer boxes and messages about the problem from the pulpit.

“By including mental health struggles in regular conversation, we can fight the stigma that persists in many churches. This keeps us from telling a lie when the church sign says, ‘Come as you are,'” Austin wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.

He said that ‘I’m praying for you’ may be the right thing to say but it doesn’t offer a solution for those who are struggling. He suggests instead that churches should look at mental health “psych wards.” Aside from prayer, churches can offer “tangible changes” to help those who are struggling.

“Instead of spending countless hours and dollars creating showy performances meant to cultivate an image, church should work toward transparency in corporate worship, by investing in mental health support groups and hosting events encouraging open dialogue,” he wrote.

Austin suggests having a prayer box specifically for mental health concerns, and continue through messages from the pulpit. It also helps to talk about depression and anxiety in Sunday school, especially since the rate of suicide is high among the younger generation.

“It’s time to let our kids and young people know they are safe to speak about mental health…Much like the psych ward, Christians with mental illness are looking for a spiritual community that welcomes their dysfunction, disappointment, and exhaustion. In the same way, Jesus welcomed people to come without pretense, it’s time for the church to provide a sacred place to lay down our burdens and rest,” Austin concluded.

Given the mission of the church is to help people grow, then it should encourage confession about mental health struggles. This makes people feel safe to talk about their illness and feel that they are not alone. Austin added that the church naturally can’t fix people but they can help heal their wounds by “practicing radical acceptance through grace, love, and listening”.