Mental Health

Mental health involves everyone. Mental health or ‘mental wellbeing’ is a positive concept that refers to resilience and good functioning and incorporates happiness and an abundant life.

A person who has been diagnosed with a mental illness can achieve good mental health with the support of their family, community, and church and may be able to engage in positive relationships and activity like work or volunteering. The church has cared for countless people throughout the ages and was responsible for the birth of modern hospitals. However, churches have often found mental illness particularly hard to respond to. In a 2008 online study to assess the perceptions encountered in the local church by individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder, it was found that the local church had dismissed the diagnosis of 41.2% of participants. [1] The authors go on to state, “clergy, not psychologists or other mental health professionals, are the most common source of help sought in times of psychological distress.”

An American survey found that among those with a family member struggling with mental illness, 65% of people want their church to talk openly about mental illness so the topic will not be taboo. And yet 49% of pastors say they rarely or never speak to their congregation about mental illness. [2]

“How can we, the church, expect to offer the hope of Christ and life-changing help to those suffering if our churches are not a safe place for us to own our brokenness? We first have to take off our masks and recreate the culture in our homes, churches, and organizations. We don’t know how to struggle with mental illness because the church is not a safe place to struggle.” [3]

It is important for the church to embrace a theology which understands that all suffering and frailty is something that God, through Jesus experienced. In 2014, the Baptist Union of Victoria passed a resolution to ‘approach ‘mental illness’ within the broader perspective of ‘mental health’’ and to ‘make effort to de-stigmatise mental illness and commit to training and education programs’ [4] (for the full resolution, please click here). The information outlined here serves as one step towards that goal.

“A mental illness (or mental disorder) is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.” [5] Mental health is a growing concern in Australia. In any year, 20% of the Australian population aged between 16 and 85 experience at least one of the ‘common forms of mental illness.’ [6]

The peak in prevalence is in the early adult years, however, for two-thirds of people, the mental illness they experience in adult life has its onset in childhood or adolescence. [7] ‘Almost half of the Australian population (45%) will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.’ [8] Fifty-four percent of people with a mental illness will not access treatment; [9] (this is higher amongst men, with 72% of men not seeking medical help for a mental illness), [10] and despite 1 in 4 young people in Australia experiencing mental illness, 70% of those who need help, don’t get it. [11]

1 in 40 Australians live with a disabling psychiatric condition that profoundly limits them in performing even the basic tasks of daily living. [12]

Depressive disorders
‘A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s ability to carry out their work and usual daily activities and to have satisfying personal relationships.’ [13] In any one year, 6.2% of Australians aged 16-85 will suffer from a depressive disorder, which includes 20% of mothers with a child aged under 24 months. [14] Depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia (13%), measured as years of life lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. [15] Alarmingly, it is believed that depression will become the greatest health problem world-wide by 2030. [16]

Anxiety disorders
An anxiety disorder differs from normal anxiety by being more severe, longer lasting, and interfering with the person’s work, other activities and relationships. [17] Anxiety problems include post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. ‘Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia (14.4% of Australians suffer from anxiety in any one year), with one in three women and one in five men experiencing anxiety at some stage in their life. [18]

Psychotic disorders
Psychotic disorders are less common in the community, but have severe disturbances in thinking, emotion and behaviour. There are strong links between psychosis and substance use. Some health issues where psychosis can occur include schizophrenia, psychotic depression, bi-polar disorder schizoaffective disorder and drug-induced psychosis. [19]

Suicide is the leading cause of death for people Australians aged 25-44 and second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24. In 2015 alone, over 3,000 Australians died by suicide, [20] with around 65,300 people each year attempting to take their own lives. [21] Australians are more likely to die by suicide than skin cancer. [22] Australians are at greater risk of suicide if they have a mental illness, a disability, have attempted before, had bad things happen recently, been abused as a child or been recently exposed to suicide by someone. [23]

A theory of suicide posits that there are three forces at play for someone at risk of suicide: 1. the person thinks they’re a burden on others; 2. They can withstand a high degree of pain; and 3. They don’t feel connected to others. [24]

‘In 2011 men accounted for over three quarters (76%) of deaths from suicide.’ [25] ‘Other groups that are at greatest risk include: Indigenous Australians, who experience an overall rate of suicide more than double that of non-Indigenous Australians, the LGBTI community, who experience a rate of attempted suicide four times that of those identifying as straight, people in rural and remote areas, and children.’ [26]

Substance abuse
Having a mental illness can make a person more likely to abuse drugs. Others have drug problems that may trigger a mental illness, including drug-induced psychosis. If someone has a predisposition to a psychotic illness, drugs may trigger the first episode in what can be a lifelong mental illness. Studies suggest that around 50% of people suffering with a mental illness also have a drug or alcohol problem. [27]

Substance abuse can also lead to compounding problems of unemployment, financial hardship, poor housing and social isolation. [28]

Personality disorders
Personality disorders are not mental illnesses. ‘A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of behaviour that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time and leads to distress or impairment. The cause of this disorder is unknown, but childhood events and genetics may both be involved.’ [29]

Dementia is also not regarded as a mental illness. Dementia is a progressive loss of cognitive function, marked by memory problems, trouble communicating, impaired judgment, and confused thinking. It is caused by damage to brain cells and usually worsens over time. Dementia most often occurs during old age, but is a more severe form of decline than normal ageing. There are four subtypes of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease accounting for 50% of dementias.

The Most Vulnerable

Employment and Mental Health
People who live with a mental illness are also more at risk of experiencing a range of adverse social, economic and health outcomes. Of six major health conditions (cancer, cardiovascular, major injury, mental illness, diabetes, arthritis), mental illness is associated with the lowest likelihood of being in the labour force.[30] “Between 80 and 90% of people with severe mental illness … are unemployed. Despite this, when people with a severe mental illness are asked their goals, their consistent number-one ambition is to get a job.”[31] Conversely, unemployment is believed to contribute to mental health issues. 2015 research found that as the youth unemployment rate rose, mental health issues among young people simultaneously rise.[32] “Stress, anxiety, depression and even panic attacks have sky rocketed in incidence … among 18-24 year-olds as unemployment rises.”[33]

Homelessness and Mental Health
People with mental illness are over represented in homeless populations with up to 75% of homeless adults having a mental illness and, of these, about a third are affected by severe disorders.[34] Click here for more on Affordable Housing.

Asylum Seekers and Mental Health
Trauma prior to migration, and indefinite detention have a negative and long-lasting impact on asylum seekers. In 2012-2013, there were 846 reported incidents of self-harm across Australia’s immigration detention system.[35] It is conservatively estimated that the cost of treating mental illnesses caused or made worse by prolonged detention is at an average of $25,000 per person.[36] For those who gain visas to live in the community, there are restrictions on employment, which contribute to poor mental health. In 2014, the BUV held forums across Greater Melbourne to discern the pertinent issues being faced in churches with people from other cultural backgrounds. It was learned that PTSD (as a result of spending a prolonged time in refugee camps) and depression and substance abuse (as a result of being displaced) were the most serious issues being faced. Click here for more information on the forums. Click here for more on Asylum Seekers.

Ageing and Mental Health
Rates of depression among people living in residential aged-care are believed to be at around 35 per cent,[37] significantly higher than the wider population. ‘The mental health of older people may be affected by losing the ability to live independently, experiencing bereavement (particularly with the death of a life partner), and a drop in income following retirement from the labour force. These factors may lead to social isolation and/or loneliness, loss of independence and increased psychological distress.’[38] In addition to the burden of depression amongst older Australians, dementia is expected to increase from around ‘413,000 people in 2017 to about 1,101,000 in 2056.’[39] Click here for more on Ageing and Elder Abuse.

Indigenous Australians and Mental Health
Due to a lack of research, the current clearest measure for Indigenous Mental Health is in hospitalisation records. Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to die by suicide or be hospitalised for mental health or behavioural reasons than non-Indigenous Australians.[40] Indigenous children aged 1–14 are nine times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous children; Indigenous young adults aged 15–24 are four times more likely to die by suicide and Indigenous people are now three times more likely to be hospitalised for intentional self-harm than other Australians.[41] Yarn Safe[42] and Proppa Deadly[43] are two initiatives to combat anxiety and depression amongst the Indigenous population through safe communication and story-telling. Click here for more on Reconciliation.

Sexuality and Mental Health
In any 12 month period, compared with the general population, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people are twice as likely to have a mental health disorder, are nearly six times more likely to currently meet the criteria for a depressive episode, and are more than twice as likely to currently meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.[44] Compared with the general population, LGBTI young people (aged 16-27) are five times more likely to attempt suicide.[45] Click here for more on Sexuality.

Church pastors and leaders are in an influential position to de-stigmatise and educate a community on mental health and mental illness. It is imperative for pastors and church leaders to understand mental illnesses, how to identify them, how to respond, and how to provide care and a safe and welcoming community for those who are suffering. As previously stated, “Clergy, not psychologists or other mental health professionals, are the most common source of help sought in times of psychological distress.” [46]

The stigma of mental illness is noted by many leading organisations as a further stumbling block for those already struggling with mental illness. The opportunity to highlight the issue of mental illness in a group or congregational setting can help to de-stigmatise the issue, and create a place where there is safety in one’s struggle, and where vulnerability is welcome and embraced. In addition to speaking opportunities, below are ways in which you and your church can take positive steps to care for those with a mental illness.

Get training
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) offers a robust 12-hour training program designed to teach participants the skills to help someone who they’re concerned about. Click here to learn more or to organise training for your church leaders and congregation.

Bible Study Material
A 4-session group Bible Study series created by Amy Simpson aims to help participants discern how to help those who are suffering from a mental illness. It covers such topics as what it means to be a Christian who is suffering emotionally, how to discern if something is a mental illness or has other causes, how the church should respond to those with mental illness, and how to provide hope for those who are depressed. Please click here to purchase materials.

A further 6-session group Bible Study series by Amy Simpson, Ministering to Those with a Mental Illness, covers the topics A Christian Response to Mental Illness, Why So Much Suffering? Mental Illness and the Church’s Responsibility, Shining Light on Stigma, The Church is Called to Help with Mental Illness, and God Can Redeem Mental Illness. Please click here to purchase materials.

Baptcare Information
The attached Baptcare article outlines those most marginalised in our community by mental illness, and the positive impact of the church in building a community of mental health, well-being and resilience. The article encourages understanding; non-judgemental welcoming and the creating of socially inclusive spaces; practical and emotional support and respite for carers and parents; protection of children from violence, abuse and trauma; the promotion of resilience in young people through mentoring and coping strategies; and providing a spiritual framework which gives social networks of support. Please click here for more information on Baptcare.

Baptcare supports campaigns to improve the mental health literacy of Australians in order to increase their understanding of mental health, combat stigma, and promote strategies to support people experiencing discrimination as a result of mental illness. Click here for more information on Baptcare’s Mental Health Social Policy.

Grow – Mental Wellness Programs
Grow is a community-based organisation helping Australians recover from mental illness through a unique program of mutual support and personal development. Grow Groups meet weekly and vary in size from three to ten members, and are run by seasoned ‘Growers’ who have taken a voluntary leadership role within the Group. Click here to join a Grow Group.

ReachOut is Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people and their parents. The provide practical support, tools and tips to help young people and parents get through anything from everyday issues to tough times. ReachOut was the world’s first online mental health service more than 20 years ago and is accessed by 132,000 people in Australia every month.

Life Line (13 11 14)
Lifeline is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. We’re committed to empowering Australians to be suicide-safe through connection, compassion and hope. Our vision is for an Australia free of suicide.

Beyond Blue
Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.

headspace provides mental health information and resources tailored to support 12-25 year olds, through 100+ Australia-wide headspace Centres, online support and clinical programs.

SANE Australia is a national mental health charity working to support four million Australians affected by complex mental illness. SANE’s work includes mental health awareness, online peer support and information, stigma reduction, specialist helpline support, research and advocacy.

R U OK?’s mission is to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.

Dementia Awareness Month, January annually

PTSD Awareness Day, 27 June annually

World Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September annually

RUOK Day, 12 September annually

World Alzheimer’s Day, 21 September annually

World Mental Health Day, 10 October annually

[1] Matthew S. Stanford PhD and Kandace R. McAlister, ‘Perceptions of Serious Mental Illness in the Local Church’, Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 12, no. 2 (17 July 2008): 144–53,
[2] ‘13 Stats on Mental Health and the Church’, Facts & Trends, 1 May 2018,
[3] Ed Stetzer, ‘The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness’, The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer, 23 May 2016,
[4] Baptist Union of Victoria, ‘Minutes of the Meeting of the Assembly (Delegates Dinner) of the Baptist Union of Victoria’, 10 October 2014,
[5] ‘Department of Health | What Is Mental Illness?’, accessed 10 January 2019,
[6] ‘The Magnitude of the Problem’, Department of Health, 2009,
[7] ‘The Magnitude of the Problem’.
[8] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’ (Black Dog Institute), accessed 10 January 2019,
[9] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[10] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[11] ‘What We Do | About ReachOut Australia’, accessed 1 December 2019,
[12] ‘Supporting Mental Health | Baptcare Social Policy Paper’ (Baptcare), accessed 1 December 2019,
[13] BA Kitchener, AF Jorm, and CM Kelly, Mental Health First Aid Manual, 4th ed. (Melbourne: Mental Health First Aid Australia, 2017), 4.
[14] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[15] Kitchener, Jorm, and Kelly, Mental Health First Aid Manual, 22.
[16] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[17] Kitchener, Jorm, and Kelly, Mental Health First Aid Manual, 42.
[18] ‘Know When Anxiety Is Talking’, Beyond Blue, 2018,
[19] Kitchener, Jorm, and Kelly, Mental Health First Aid Manual, 56.
[20] Kitchener, Jorm, and Kelly, 120.
[21] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[22] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[23] Kitchener, Jorm, and Kelly, Mental Health First Aid Manual, 120.
[24] ‘What R U OK? Is about | R U OK?’, accessed 12 January 2019,
[25] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[26] ‘Facts and Figures about Mental Health’.
[27] ‘Substance Use & Mental Illness’, accessed 15 January 2019,
[28] ‘Supporting Mental Health | Baptcare Social Policy Paper’.
[29] ‘Histrionic Personality Disorder’, Psychology Today, accessed 11 January 2019,
[30] ‘The Magnitude of the Problem’.
[31] Eóin Killackey, ‘Welfare to Work: A Different Approach for People with Mental Illness’, The Conversation, accessed 11 January 2019,
[32] ‘The Impacts of Unemployment on Youth Mental Health’, WayAhead (blog), 5 October 2017,
[33] ‘The Impacts of Unemployment on Youth Mental Health’.
[34] ‘The Magnitude of the Problem’.
[35] Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Face the Facts: Asylum Seekers and Refugees’, accessed 12 January 2019,
[36] Australian Human Rights Commission.
[37] beyondblue, ‘Older People’, accessed 10 January 2019,
[38] ‘Supporting Mental Health | Baptcare Social Policy Paper’.
[39] ‘Supporting Mental Health | Baptcare Social Policy Paper’.
[40] ‘Closing the Gap on Indigenous Mental Health’, accessed 11 January 2019,
[41] ‘Closing the Gap on Indigenous Mental Health’.
[42] ‘Yarn Safe – Mental Health for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders | Headspace’, accessed 11 January 2019,
[43] ‘Proppa Deadly | BIMA Projects’, accessed 11 January 2019,
[44] ‘The Statistics At a Glance: The Mental Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People in Australia’, National LGBTI Health Alliance, accessed 12 January 2019,
[45] ‘The Statistics At a Glance’.
[46] ‘Perceptions of Serious Mental Illness in the Local Church’.

Last Updated: January 2019