Mental health: The Sermon Pastors Are Afraid to Preach in the Pulpits

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Mental health. Therapy. Counseling. Pray it away. Give it to God. One point or another in your life you’ve heard these words. The most common one particular amongst Blacks who are in the church is “pray it away.” At what point do you stop and ask yourself exactly what it means to pray it away?

Last year actress Taraji P. Henson launched a foundation in honor of her late father, Boris Lawrence Henson to help bring awareness to mental health. Henson has been very open and candid about her father’s struggles with mental health. 

In more recent headlines, singer, actress and Destiny’s Child bandmate Michelle Williams went public about her mental health struggles, most notably chronicled in the OWN series, Chad Loves Michelle. While I applaud these public figures for being vocal about mental health, there is still one target group missing—the Black church.

For years conversations about mental health in the Black community have always been shunned upon. According to the Journal of Black Studies, African Americans reportedly have a greater severity of untreated mental health disorders than any other known racial group. Research has also shown that Blacks are more likely to rely on the elders of their churches and their own spiritual beliefs, rather than seek support from mental health professionals.

“Far too often we always hear of the cliche phrase that you can pray it away, but as pastors and leaders we must teach our congregations that it’s ok to admit that you’re not ok,” said John Townsend a Dallas based pastor and community leader.”

The question still remains—why doesn’t the Black church talk and bring more awareness to the importance of mental health? 

“For me it’s always been a stigma around mental health conditions. {The Black church} doesn’t like to think something is wrong or it’s labeled as a white man’s disease. The education around mental health is very important. Once we are educated in it first then we can deal with it head on,” said Pastor Townsend.

When Williams came public with her battles of mental health, it was a conversation starter because she has been very open about her faith and ties with the church. 

“For years I have dedicated myself to increasing awareness of mental health and empowering people to recognize when it’s time to seek help, support and guidance from those that love and care for your well being,” said Williams who continued, “I recently listened to the same advice I have given to thousand around the world and sought help from a great team of healthcare professionals.” 

Just as Williams was so open and public about her battles with depression, so was everyday common church folks including Vanessa Townsend, daughter of Pastor Townsend.

“I was so ashamed at first to admit how I was feeling to my family. I’m a pastor’s daughter and I’m not supposed to have anything wrong with me,” said Townsend. “When I decided to come clean and seek help it inspired my family to be more open about the struggles of mental health in the church.” 

Pastor Townsend is just one pastor who has decided to put the cliche sayings to the side for the betterment of Blacks within the church. 

According to Pastor Townsend, “I’m no longer ashamed to talk about it. When my daughter expressed her feelings to my wife and I we knew that we had to do something. Of course we sought help for her and decided to have open and honest dialogue about mental health in the pulpit.”

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Samantha Pounds is an avid reader, entertainment junkie and loves a good glass of wine. When she is not busy writing or researching she enjoys a career in public relations. A journalist by trade, Samantha received her B.S. from Indiana State University where she majored and minored in public relations and marketing. She also holds her A.S. in journalism.

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