The road to recovery: The role of the Church and the pilgrim’s progress

Dr Joseph Leong speaking at “The Church and Mental Wholeness” on 12 Sep 2019.

One in seven persons in Singapore has experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime. This means that even among a small congregation of 210 churchgoers, around 30 may have suffered from mental illness.

The 2nd Singapore Mental Health Study found that the top three mental disorders here are major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

My experience in psychiatry shows that a happier, healthier and holier routine—especially involving social and physical activities, and learning about Jesus—really helps people to remain well on the road to recovery.

I view stroke patients as having a physical brain attack often leading to their not being able to walk. Medication can reduce the risk of another stroke, but it is the rehabilitation and the ongoing support of family, friends and the church that keeps a person engaged, encouraged and empowered to take more and more steps to learn to walk again.

A person with a mental health issue may be likened to be experiencing a psychic brain attack, and perhaps becoming house-bound, room-bound and even bed-bound by anxiety, low moods or fears. Medication can stabilise the brain condition but rehabilitation and recovery may take weeks to months depending on the support available to help them stay engaged in life and in church.

Indeed, we are all on a pilgrim’s journey and to make progress, let us help one another. In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we encounter the Slough of Despond, the Giant Despair, the Doubting Castle and even a Dungeon where Christian Pilgrims are trapped. Unfortunately, unlike the Pilgrim’s Progress, where there seems to be forward movement, the mentally ill may sometimes encounter similar states of mind again of doubting, despondence and despair. Not unlike the sin in our flesh, the world and Satan with which we struggle daily—we have to rely on the daily mercies and miracles of our Abba Father to set us free from guilt and shame.

Prayer as directed by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit is another important practice from which all can benefit. Philippians 4:6–7 encourages us to “…not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

The Church is the people of God—fellow pilgrims escaping from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, learning along the way more of the King and learning to serve the King and one another.

Practical help such as a listening ear and showing care and concern to fellow church members who may look tired or troubled is a good first step. Checking in on friends who have not attended church for some time and if necessary, making a home visit may also be welcome. Simple acts such as cooking or sharing a meal and visiting a housebound member can be a great encouragement.

If you are a caregiver wanting to learn more about mental disorders, check out the Caregiver Alliance website ( It provides Caregiver-2-Caregiver Training as well as Caregiver-4-Caregivers Support.

You may be a person who has recovered from a mental disorder; you can share your story to reduce the myths and mystery of mental illness.

Finally, if you are still struggling and trying to recover, will you call out for help to your family and friends in church? Will you take steps to build a happier, healthier and holier life with the help of the Church around you?

Indeed we can overcome the world by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony! (Rev 12:11)


The invisible illness of “high-functioning” depression

Dr Joseph Leong is a psychiatrist by profession, and believes in pointing people to Jesus as Healer, Redeemer and Saviour. He was a speaker at the recent The Church and Mental Wholeness conference that was held at Yio Chu Kang Chapel from 12 to 14 Sep 2019. He worships at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. 

Photo courtesy of Yio Chu Kang Chapel