National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from FaithNet NAMI

September 8, 2006

The "Do"s and "Don’t"s of Ministry

By Jan Lutz, NAMI member

Author’s note: As part of my advocacy work on behalf of persons diagnosed with mental illness, I have prepared this list of  “do”s and “don’t”s with people of faith in mind.  You may have seen similar suggestions for people with cancer.

Guidelines for how faith communities can provide care and support to persons with mental illness and their families


…use shame or guilt as a motivator.  For many who suffer from a mental illness, shame and inappropriate guilt have already contributed to a breakdown.

…tell a person with mental illness to just pray harder.  That would not be appropriate advice for someone with cancer or a heart condition, and it is not appropriate for mental illness.  Please recognize that mental illnesses are physiologically-based and do respond to medications as do other disorders.

…tell a person with mental illness that it is a result of sin.  According the Bible, the world was plunged into a sinful state when our first parents sinned.  However, mental illness is not the result of any particular sin that person committed or because of anything he/she failed to do.

…treat one who has mental illness like a second-class believer or assume that he/she is demon-possessed.

…look down on persons with mental illness for using medications to control their symptoms.  Someone with depression using anti-depressants is no different than someone with diabetes using insulin.

…confuse mental illness and mental retardation.  Both are often misunderstood, resulting in stigmatization of persons affected by either.  The terms are not interchangeable.


…talk to them of God’s unconditional love and your care and concern for them.

…pray for balance in their lives and tolerance in yours.

…listen without being judgmental or offering advice.

…correct those who ignorantly spread gossip or misinformation about mental illness.

…treat persons affected by mental illness and their families with compassion, not condescension.  Most don’t want pity, just understanding and support.

…educate yourself about mental illness and mental health issues and become an advocate for people with mental illness who are often not in a position to speak for themselves.

Next steps:

Jan Lutz has been active in NAMI for over 10 years, and has also been a teacher and teacher trainer in the BRIDGES program. She lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, with her husband who serves as their NAMI affiliate president and a Family-to-Family teacher. As someone who lives with mental illness, she is always looking for ways to combat stigma.