“I used to have panic attacks. I couldn’t read the Bible, I couldn’t pray. It all made me feel like I was a terrible Christian. I just simply couldn’t do those things… and I blamed myself for not being able to. And unfortunately, because mental health was so misunderstood by other people, I was told that’s why I was the way I was – because I wasn’t doing those things.” – Jenny Nicholls

Did you know that the biggest barrier people with psychosocial impairments face in our churches is negative attitudes from others? It’s sad. But it’s true. Their experience of disability is as much about discrimination and exclusion as it is about the disability itself. 

“Some 17% of church attenders had sought or received treatment for a mental health issue in the previous two years. Of these, almost half (46%) reported that their church was not aware of their state of mental health.” – National Church Life Survey (2018)

What are psychosocial impairments? 

Psychosocial disabilities include long-term impairments related to mental health or emotional conditions. This can include: 

  • Changes in mood, such as experiencing depression or mania;
  • People who see, hear or feel things that others do not (eg. hearing voices);
  • And people who may be very nervous, anxious or fearful. 

These experiences usually don’t happen all the time; but when they do people may become confused and it may affect their communication.

Many church members and even staff find that they do not know how to respond to or include people with these sorts of disabilities. That means that we really need to train up our churches so that we might become a welcoming refuge for people living with psychosocial impairments.

How welcoming is your church? 

One thing that can make our churches and activities more accessible is to keep people informed. 

For some people, changes in routine can cause anxiety, and some may require more notice of events in order to prepare. So, giving advance warning of these things can be helpful.

Right now, the impact of COVID-19 on people with anxiety or other forms of psychosocial disabilities may be extreme. Being flexible and giving opportunities for people to make choices about how they want to participate can be the best way to help them navigate church life.

Always treat people with love and respect

Everyone is made in God’s image and is precious in his sight. 

Everyone should feel safe and welcome at church, so it’s important to always treat people living with psychosocial impairments with respect and invite them to contribute.

Things may be a little different, we may need to learn to accept behaviours that are not what we are used to. 

Remember, it’s always best to keep discussions calm and if a person appears distressed, assist them in the same way you would care for someone without disabilities. 

Knowing what to expect and being treated with respect both make an enormous difference to help people with psychosocial impairments feel welcome and comfortable at church. 

However, to truly make our churches and activities more inclusive, we must ask God to help us change our negative or fearful assumptions and ideas about psychosocial disability. 

If we can see the people that Jesus loves, not just the disability, we can better learn to welcome and love them in His name.

For more information

Discover more by watching Jenny’s story about mental illness and The Gift of Art.