About the Contributor
Church Mental Health Programs
Church mental health programs might be needed to help fight the growing number of people in congregations who are experiencing loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Consider community-based interventions that include mental health education for churches who would then work hand-in-hand with other mental health providers like local health clinics. Larger congregations may even have members who are qualified in counseling or psychiatric care. If not, though, there is always the option of a simpler, more scaled-down approach to answering the question “how can the church help with mental illness?” This might include peer-to-peer support for the elderly, along with a young person's mental health outreach ministry.
Perhaps the important thing to consider when looking at church mental health programs is to focus on the demographics and personality of that particular religious organization itself. Being a part of a faith-based organization will typically boost the mental health of its members, and mental health education for churches can create a greater sense of belonging and help teach individuals how to cope with an onslaught of challenges, both spiritually and mentally.
Churches are keenly aligned to work together with the local mental health system, especially since many people will often turn to the clergy for help before contacting a mental health service provider. The potential problem with this is that these members may sometimes be experiencing serious mental illness that might need a therapeutic and medicinal answer. At-risk youth, people experiencing drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse or neglect are all some examples of specific programs in which church groups can start a meaningful dialogue with the most vulnerable in their communities.
Mental Health Ministry In The Church
Some people might be wondering what a mental health ministry in the church looks like. Here, we will examine 4 ways to incorporate a mental health ministry toolkit for congregations that are based on community resources and the talent within the congregations.
As mentioned above, a peer-based mental health ministry can serve to simply help unite similar church members in order to assist in helping each other. Some groups, such as the elderly, married women, youth, and singles in the church can all face different mental health issues which can be supported with group functions like outings, group talk, or daily member check-ins. While these ministries likely already exist in most congregations, the focus is typically put on social and spiritual gatherings. It can be easy to add a mental health component.
A mental health ministry can be structured as a referral service. A group can be commissioned to reach out to community mental health partners who may be willing to offer free or discounted services for members of the congregation. This way, when a church leader learns of a struggling member, they can refer them to the mental health ministry for a deeper conversation and referral to an appropriate health provider.
Pastors and church staff can volunteer to become more educated on helping those who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. It doesn't have to be an in-person session, as a church hotline can also be established to enable access to a church member who has taken some basic level of training in mental health de-escalation and spiritual strengthening through prayer. The goal is often simply to bring hope into a situation where there previously was none.
And finally, for larger congregations, perhaps all it takes is having one or two mental health professionals within the membership in order to lead a bonafide mental health ministry that is able to counsel, and possibly treat, those who are struggling beyond their spiritual capacities. The goal for these types of ministries would likely be to advertise the availability of mental health support within the church and to come up with innovative mental health and faith-based solutions for these issues.
Any church can offer a mental health ministry toolkit for congregations that use social media, online support groups, and free hospital case management services to help guide members into sharing their feelings and exploring the many avenues towards wellness.
Hope And Mental Health
Certainly, faith, hope, and mental health can all play a key role not only in surviving tough times, but also in thriving at all times. Challenges like post-traumatic stress, severe depression, and suicidal ideation, however, can cause setbacks - and those who feel hopeless within their situation may be less likely to attain their goal towards better mental health.
The role of the church in mental health can begin with removing the stigma of seeking help. Oftentimes, if the only message heard from the pulpit is one in which all problems can be solved by faith and prayer, then those who may be dealing with serious mental illness can feel hopeless. Faith-based organizations can be effective because many people can find themselves reaching out to clergy to share their struggles.
For this reason, perhaps more information, training, or insight should be given to church leaders before they can extend a helping hand to their membership. At the very least, church leaders may need to know how to recognize the signs of mental illness. Messages of hope and faith can work well when paired with good resource material for the person to seek further help.
Many people who feel hopeless may even stop attending religious services. Starting a ministry that fosters hope, and specifically tackles the problem of those who seem to be giving up the church, can at least help make sure that isolation doesn't compound the problems. A mission team that reaches out by phone, email, or messaging to those who have admitted they are struggling with hope can be a powerful way to help bridge the gap between mental health and the church.
Demonstrating hope to those who suffer from mental illness can include conversations that show the important life lessons that can be gleaned from challenging situations. However, spiritual guidelines to live by can only deliver hope when the messenger also shows compassion and empathy for the suffering.
Faith Based Mental Health Organizations
There are a number of faith-based mental health organizations and faith-based mental health support groups out there, many of which are nonprofit organizations that have religious affiliations, while at the same time providing social services and other non-secular benefits to the community. These organizations usually offer counseling services, parenting classes, veteran services, and more - covering a large swath of people who may need help in coping.
Other organizations offer evidence-based, mental health training courses to laymen within organizations, so that they can have greater confidence when helping an individual in distress. This can be a great way for members to learn the signs, symptoms, and risk factors for both substance abuse and mental illness.
Search thecrg.org to find resources for leadership, such as mental health sermons and mental health starter kits, which include resource guides and testimonies on hope and healing.
How To Start A Mental Health Ministry
There is no one solution to discovering how to start mental health ministries. One church may start by putting out a call to worshipers to gather for group conversations, which might then blossom into a more structured ministry with defined goals and a targeted audience (like drug addicts or teens with suicidal ideation, for instance). One thing is certain, however: due to the sensitive nature of the information shared, which may include hospitalizations and medical treatments, it is best for leadership to guide the efforts and works in order to ensure confidentiality.
Churches that help with mental health should also perhaps research how other organizations have been successful - even workplace wellness programs can be a good starting point. As one example, one organization has set up a website with commentary, podcasts, and newsletters on this very subject. Here are some suggested steps for creating a mental health ministry:
1. Create a welcoming and supportive faith community. 2. Assess the mental health needs of the congregation, including mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse. 3. Increase the mental health literacy of the congregation and work to remove stigmas associated with getting help. 4. Form a ministry focused on mental health and wellness, which may include a companionship care team. 5. Ensure that the movement is sustained and get buy-in from the clergy, admin, and the board of directors.
Starting a mental health ministry can be a huge undertaking, but it is also one that can be necessary and needed in most communities. With this in mind, it can be helpful for people to research their options, talk to fellow clergy and have discussions with the congregation on how to proceed so that they can tailor their mental health ministry to the needs of those that they serve.