A Study on Mental Health

Week 1 – What is Mental Health? What is Stigma? 

Mental health is such an important topic in today’s world. Unfortunately, the church often does a poor job of making spaces for this topic. It is forgotten, neglected, ignored, or judged in moth faith spaces. It is important to note that the Bible does not address, specifically, mental health or mental illness. The writers at the time of biblical authorship would not have understood these terms. They would not have known, everything that we know today about our brain functions and emotional needs. Still, if faith is truly meant to intertwine with everything in our lives, then we must create space for the discussion of mental health in our faith spheres. 

(1) What is the difference between mental illness and mental health?

Mental Illness: Health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these)

Mental Health: Our total level of mental well-being, including our emotional, social, spiritual, and psychological wellness. 

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Ask: 

  • What does this passage tell you about mental health? [mental health is wide-ranging, it covers a variety of thoughts, feelings, & emotions; we need to experience all these things; It is more than mental illness, etc.] 
  • What all does this passage suggests about the wide-range of things God has given us? [ God has given us life (time to be born), physical sustenance (time to sow), emotions (time to weep and mourn), joy (time to dance and laugh),  comfort in others (time to embrace), AND EACH PART IS IMPORTANT]

(2) What is stigma?

Stigma: A stigma is something that disgraces or discredits that which is set apart, or different, from itself. The stigma against mental health comes from that fact that majority of people do not know or understand much about mental health needs. As a result, they can make people feel awkward, fearful, or bad when they talk about such needs. It is important that we notice this stigma exists. It will be difficult to erase stigma altogether, but we can try to make our faith space a place where this stigma is small. Everyone should feel safe to talk about their mental health needs. 

Ask: Have you ever seen or felt stigma when you or someone tried to discuss their mental health? 

(3) Does lack of faith cause us to have mental health issues?

Read: John 9:1-3 

Ask:

  • What do people think caused the man to be blind? [his sin]
  • What does Jesus say in response to this? [this is not the case. The quality of your faith does not cause you to have physical or mental impairments. In fact, Jesus says his blindness gives him a unique way to show the love of God to others.]
  • What might this tell us about people when they struggle with physical or mental health  concerns? [These struggles are not easy, but God is not attempting to punish us through these things. It is not necessarily a result of their sin. We should, in all things, ask how we can use it to share the love of God.] 

(4) Addressing Mental Health 

Ask:

  • Why is it important that we talk about this?
  • What can we do to decrease stigma in our contexts? (at church, school, home, etc.) 

Pray: Pray together that we can make safe spaces where people feel free to be open and vulnerable. Ask God to help us remove the stigma from our own biases and thoughts. Pray that we can welcome and listen and care for others the way Jesus did. 


Week 2 – A Christian Response to Mental Health Needs in Others and Ourselves

Just like everyone has physical health needs, everyone has mental health needs — those around us and ourselves. As Christians, we should constantly be thinking about how our faith should shape how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. As the world gains understanding into mental health needs, we should think seriously about how our Christian faith comes into play. 

(1) It’s a big job! 

Read: Matthew 9:35-38

Not many people think about what the church’s job is but the people of the church do have a job. It is easy to think that the ministers are the other ones that have a job at church. But all Christians are called to live in a certain way. This Matthew passage tells us something important about the responsibility of all Christians. 

Ask: What could this passage tell us about the church’s responsibility?

Everyone has mental health needs but not everyone is caring for them. The people of the church should. 

(2) Love with the mind 

Read: Mark 12:28-31

Ask: What does Jesus say is the most important commandment? (Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

Now Read: Deuteronomy 6:4 

Ask: How does this verse say we should love God? (with all our heart, soul, and strength)

Notice that the passage from Deuteronomy does not say mind, like the passage from Mark. In the story from Mark’s gospel, Jesus, and the teacher he was answering, would both have been aware of this Deuteronomy scripture. Jesus was purposely referencing it when he answered the teachers question. Jesus added that we should love God with all of our mind. 

Ask:

  • Why do you think he added that we should love God with all our mind? 
  • How do we actually do this? How do we love God with all of our mind? (No right answer. Help them think of some actual practical ways we can love God in these ways…School? Prayer? Studying scripture? Taking care of ourselves? Thinking about our faith? Right some of these answers on the board or a poster where they can see it.) 

(3) WSCD (What Should Christians Do?)

Reread: Mark 12:31 

Ask:

  • What is the second greatest commandment? (Love your neighbor as you love yourself) 
  • What does that mean in talking about mental health? How can we love our neighbors who are struggling with mental health?
  • How can we love ourselves when we struggle with mental health? 

As Christians, we are called by Jesus to love our neighbors, even those struggling with mental health.  But the most important word in this verse is “As.” We are called to love others, as we love ourselves. This means we have to love ourselves too, even when we may be struggling with mental health needs. We must have grace and care for ourselves even when it feels like we are different than others. We have a Christian responsibility to love others AND to love ourselves.)

Pray: Pray together that we can live in love. Ask God to help us love others AND love ourselves though our various mental health needs. Thank God for giving us a community, a church, and a family to hold us up in times of need.


Week 3 – Understanding the Sabbath 

When we hear the Hebrew word “Sabbath,” we often think about this word as referring to a day of the week. In reality, this Hebrew word means to cease, to stop, or to pause. Sabbath does not refer specifically to a day of the week but rather a designated time of resting. Biblically, time for rest has been a priority since the beginning. It is critical to the lives of all people. 

(1) Boundaries Set By God (We Need Rest)

Ask: Have your ever been given a “boundary” by your parents or teachers? In other words, have your ever been allowed to do something but “only if” you do it a certain way? What is an example? 

Read: Exodus 16:13-21

Ask: What were the boundaries for receiving the manna?

  1. Gather every day for six days, but not on the seventh day.
  2. Gather enough for each day, no more or less. 

God sent the manna as a gift to the Israelites, just as God has given us many gifts. However, he set boundaries on their ability to use and access the manna. This boundary God set was actually also a gift because the Israelites gained something from it. They gained ability to trust God and ability to rest. In the same way, God has given us boundaries. Although we all have many talents and interests, we need time to rest. This need for rest should not feel like a burden but a gift. 

(2) What Might Need To Go…

Ask:

  • What things occupy your time? (school, sports, phones, church, tv, video games, etc.) 

In order to create time for “Sabbath,” or rest, we might have to cut out some things that occupy a lot of our time. This does not mean that we stop doing homework or exercising or other good things for us, but it means that we cut out the things we do not need. 

  • What do you think God might want you to prune out?
  • What do you think happens when we slow down and create this space for rest?

(3) What Happens in Sabbath 

Once we have pruned out something we don’t need, we have a time we can rest. However, Sabbath rest is different that napping rest or sleeping rest. Sabbath is not simply losing something to rest but rather gaining time with God in order to rest. 

Read: Philippians 4:6-7

  • *What do these verses suggests we gain by taking time to be with God, to pray, and to rest? 

Sabbath, a time to rest and intentionally be with God, can give us peace. It can help with our stresses and anxieties, making both our hearts and minds stronger. Take some time to meditate, mentally and spiritually rest, together. Just listen to God in the silence. Close in prayer. 


Week 4 – The Importance of [sabbath-like] Self-Care 

Last week, we talked about Sabbath. We learned that we all need to rest and God has given us the ability to rest as a gift in order to take care of ourselves. We also learned that in moments of rest, we should be seeking time to be with God.

(1) Caring for yourself 

(Ask these questions in a unique way…maybe get them to draw a way they do each of these things or split them into three groups and give each group one of the questions) 

  • What are some ways you take care of yourself  physically? 
  • What are some ways you take care of yourself mentally?
  • What are some ways you take care of yourself spiritually?

(2) Holistic Self-Care 

A term that is being used a lot in our culture lately is “self-care.” As society has learned more about mental health needs, people have seen a need for moments that bring rest and joy. In order to truly take care of ourselves, we have to take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual needs. This can feel like a lot of hard work unless we are able to experience sabbath while practicing this self-care. 

The things we do for self-care can become moments of sabbath if they bring us three important things:

  1. REST 
  2. JOY/ENJOYMENT 
  3. CONNECTION WITH GOD 

Ask:

  • What things in life bring you rest? joy? and connection with God? 
  • Does anything bring about all three? 
  • What are some different ways we can practice sabbath-like self-care?

(3) Practice Makes Perfect 

Take some time to allow students to practice ”sabbath-like self-care” by doing some things that bring them rest, joy, and connection with God. Here are some ideas: 

  • Coloring 
  • Prayer stations 
  • Listening to music 
  • Telling each other positive affirmations 
  • Writing thank you notes 
  • Reading 
  • Sharing your favorite bible verses 
  • Meditating or doing Yoga  
  • Waling around outside 
  • Eating chocolate 
  • Journaling 

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

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