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Kay Warren Says U.S. Mental Health System Is 'Broken,' Encourages Every Church to 'Be a Solution' by Developing Mental Health Ministry

( [email protected] ) Aug 28, 2015 02:08 PM EDT
In a heartfelt, highly-personal op-ed, Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, argues that the mental health system in America is broken and encourages the church to better embrace the millions of people suffering from various mental illnesses.
Kay and Rick Warren. (Saddleback Church)

In a heartfelt, highly-personal op-ed, Kay Warren, wife of Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, argues that the mental health system in America is broken and encourages the church to better embrace the millions of people suffering from various mental illnesses.

"The sad fact is the mental health system is broken in the United States. I can't say that strongly enough. It is not that people aren't trying and not that there aren't some really wonderful, compassionate people in the field of mental health, but the problem is complicated, and most of the attempts to help don't always help," Warren wrote on Thursday.

"The Church's central commitment is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This should include intentionally coming alongside people living with mental illness and supporting their families. If the Church lives out its calling in this area, its compassionate voice will rise within the community, the nation and the world - extending an unwavering message of hope and acceptance for those affected by mental illness," she said.

The issue is particularly close to the Warren's heart, as her son, 27-year-old Matthew Warren, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 5, 2013 following a lengthy struggle with depression.

"When Matthew was diagnosed with depression at age 7, we had no idea," Warren recently told the OC Register. "We were so ignorant, we didn't even know children could be depressed. We thought it was an adult problem."

"When people tell me they have depression or bipolar disorder, they whisper it in my ear," she continued. "I wish there would be a day soon when people can say those things out loud, like they talk today about any other disease such as diabetes or high blood pressure."

In continuing her Huffington Post op-ed, Warren notes that as much as 23 percent of Saddleback's Pastoral Care Team ministry is engaged with people and families affected by mental illness.

She offered shocking statistics suggesting that 60 million Americans, or one in five adults, will struggle with mental illness in the coming year, and half of all adults will struggle with it in their lifetime.

Warren also discussed her own loss, fondly remembering Matthew as an "incredibly kind, funny and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many."

However, to this day, Warren and her family are haunted by the violent way in which Matthew took his own life.

"We were left with - not gentle grief - but traumatic grief. Guilt. Regret. Unanswered questions. Horror," Warren added.

However, she believes every church can be a solution by developing a mental health ministry. This year, she and her husband are hosting Saddleback Church's second annual Gathering on Mental Health and The Church October 7-9, 2015. According a press release for the event, the gathering will be three days packed with practical help and hope for individuals affected by mental illness, their loved ones, church leaders, and mental health professionals.

"The conversation we're having now is groundbreaking," Warren told the OC register. "But we have a long way to go. With the large involvement of the faith community in Orange County, they can become an invaluable partner on this critical issue."

In concluding her Huffington Post op-ed, Warren writes, "It's time for the Church to offer a place of refuge, love, and compassion for those who need it most. It's a time to acknowledge the facts and embrace the millions of people suffering everyday from mental illness."