How do we pray for people struggling with Mental Health issues:
If there was one issue that persistently causes unnecessary hurt and pain for Christians with mental health issues it is prayer. Admittedly, it is not a uniform problem; there are many fantastic models of prayer that are wholly positive. For example, Christians from a Catholic or Anglo-Catholic background typically express that the forms of prayer and contemplation in their traditions are entirely comforting and accessible during times of emotional distress.
However, some traditions more directive prayer models often leave Christians with mental health issues feeling responsible for having an illness, or feeling guilty when a healing is not immediately realised. Some of these are well illustrated in our short film ‘The House’ which you can view here. There is no doubt that those offering prayer have the best intentions for the person they are praying for, it is just that the approach or language they use causes unintended harm.
How can we pray in ways that minimise this risk:
Don’t over-focus on healing:
People with mental health issues have the same concerns, joys and spiritual needs as everybody else and yet a disproportionate amount of the prayers they receive is for healing. It can seem to them that the rest of their life and spirituality are dependent upon them being healed, which is not the case and may be more to do with our own stigma around the issue.
Ask don’t assume:
Along the same vain as the above, asking a person with mental health issues what they would like to pray about is always the best way of avoiding unintended hurt. It maybe that they want to pray for something completely unrelated, or something supportive, such as a good session with their counsellor, or to remember to take their medication on time. Try not to go further than they suggest but just stand with them in prayer for what they are really asking for.
Bless, bless, bless:
Prayer is a blessing and an encouragement. If you are praying for someone you know who is struggling with their mental health, bless and affirm everything about their nature as a child of God. Pray without making anything conditional upon them being ‘free’ from a mental health problem. God’s blessing is not withheld from the sick, it is certainly not dependent upon their recovery and it is immeasurably more than a healing.
Ask permission before laying on hands:
This is good advice for any prayer time, however, for people struggling with some mental health problems (e.g. OCD and Social Anxiety) being touched unexpectedly can cause significant distress and anxiety. Avoiding intensity and not crowding personal space is also very helpful.
Pray with a ‘journey model’ in mind:
Mental health is not binary in the same way as physical health. Health is not dependent upon the removal of a serious diagnosis, you may be well and yet still be carrying a medical classification (GAD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia). It is rarely helpful to make any claim of instant healing, or liberation from one of these ‘labels’. Instead, pray in line with a person’s specific experience of distress: “I am so sorry that you are feeling deep despair right now, let’s pray about that…”
Pray without words:
Prayer offers proximity to God and others. Standing or sitting with a person and praying for them in silence is both powerful and comforting. Inviting the presence of God to rest on the person you are praying for is far more beneficial than all of the words we can humanly offer. Be sure to say 'Amen' as you complete your prayer so the person is clear about when the prayer is being concluded.
Pray in their absence:
1 in 4 people are suffering from mental health problems. Let’s raise these people up in our prayers, as much in their absence as we do in their presence. Let’s invite God to change our own hearts and attitudes towards those who are suffering and struggling with mental health issues.
If you want to think more about how we pray the Time to Change Campaign produced this simple pack in conjunction with the Church of England: