Mental Health in the Church

By Alicia R. Smith

There is a relationship between African- American Mental Health and the Church. Church teaches our community to dismiss symptoms of mental illness and focus on spiritual wellness. The following mental illnesses and disorders are frequently dismissed in the church: anxiety, PTSD, depression, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder.

We are taught to depend on religion for our mental and spiritual well-being. However, mental health and spiritual health are not the same. Spiritual Health focuses on the spiritual well-being with a higher power. Mental Health focuses on the psychological well- being in society.

Also, we are condemned for feeling mentally ill in the church. When someone mentions they are worried in church, the first thing they are told worrying is a sin. To avoid sin, we dismiss our feelings of worry. Then, our symptoms of anxiety grow uncontrollably into PTSD. PTSD is extreme anxiety. Dealing with PTSD without medical attention is a slippery slope. Depression is another mental illness we are taught to dismiss. Feeling sad and hopeless can be a phase. On the other hand, when your body physically feels too heavy because of physical distress from depression, then it is beyond a spiritual issue.

Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Narcissist Personality Disorder and Histrionic Disorder are functional mental illnesses and disorders. Most people who have the following illnesses or disorders are highly functioning individuals. In church, symptoms of Bipolar I and II are considered demonic. Bipolar individuals experience manic episodes. The church has a cliché for manic episode, “that ain’t nothin’ but the devil.”

Medically, bipolar individuals have brain chemical imbalances. Brain chemical imbalances are linked to genetics and drug abuse. Using unprescribed controls and narcotics causes Bipolar disorders. Blaming the devil and not seeking help is increasing crime rates, domestic violence, innocent victim crimes and interpersonal violent-related deaths in the African American community.

Narcissistic and Histrionic Personality disorders are represented in interpersonal relationships in the church. In church, we are taught to honor thy father and mother. Wives submit to husbands. Husbands are the head of wives. I believe in the word, but the Spiritual Family structure effects mental health in the African- American Community. Control is one of the primary traits of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Husbands and men are appointed as leaders in the church. Training men to be a figure of authority in the church leads to Narcissistic Personality Disorders. The rule for a man to always see a woman submitting to him leads to domestic abuse and violence. Narcissistic parents who take advantage of the command, honor thy father and mother, may end up neglecting their children’s feelings and well- being.

The Histrionic Personality Disorder primary trait is validation. Some women are histrionic in response to their role in the church and the Bible. The “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing” mentality forces women to be approved by men. Seeking validation to be loved by someone leads to the constant pursuit of attention. The way histrionic individuals pursue attention is by adjusting their appearances, compete with others for the center of attention, and co-dependency.

Replacing mental health for spirituality in the church has caused many preventable problems in the African- American community. Taking care of your mental health does not make you a less credible spiritual person. Apart from being a religious person is living and growing through a journey of not having everything together, even on a mental level. If we keep waking up, life will strain us mentally, at least one time. The important thing to do is to treat your mental health after surviving different trials and tribulations.