What difference does awareness make?

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. What has this got to do with faith communities? Well, more than you might think.

If one in four people experience some kind of difficulty with their mental health in any given year, then there’s no way that faith groups aren’t affected. In every congregation, group of devotees or faith-based charity, there will be people who are struggling or who care for someone going through difficulties – even if they don’t talk about it.

The important point is that things don’t have to end there. We passionately believe that faith groups have something hugely positive to offer when it comes to mental health. They are – or should be – communities of people who care. Who have time to listen. Who can step in with the practical help that someone needs when they aren’t coping. And who know how to love and accept someone, even if they feel unlovable – to help them feel that they belong. In fact, if you look at the ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ that have been developed, faith groups tick pretty much all of the boxes.

Sure, you might be thinking that your own experience of faith communities is different. There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, and as in any organisation, there is bound to be room for improvement. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take. We know of one church that decided to hold a meeting about mental health after their normal Sunday service. As a result, some people felt able to talk to the church leaders about things they had kept to themselves for a long time, which meant the church was better able to support them. And in a synagogue, having a greater awareness of mental health means that the rabbi now sees his role differently: he is not only leading prayers; he’s looking around the room to see who might be missing, so that he can follow up later and check how people are doing.

You can find out more about these stories in the case studies from our Friendly Places initiative, which is all about encouraging faith communities to play a positive role in supporting mental health. We have tips on how places of worship can become more welcoming to people who might be struggling, and a collection of resources on mental health that are particularly suitable for faith communities.

What else can you do? If you’re in the London area, we’re running a free Friendly Places workshop next week to equip faith groups – so do come and join us! And if you can’t make that, please consider signing the Friendly Places pledge to show your support for mental health.

And keep an eye on our site for a set of case studies coming soon based on our partnership with mental health charity Mind. This has brought together faith groups and local branches of Mind to raise awareness and produce new resources to support faith communities. I hope you’ll be inspired by what can happen when faith groups see something of their potential for improving wellbeing in their communities, and take the small steps that can make a big difference.

About Rodie Garland

Rodie Garland

Rodie is FaithAction’s Policy Advisor. She leads on parts of FaithAction’s programme of work for the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England – especially on our Faith and Public Health research and on Friendly Places. She also works on our FaithLab initiative to collect evidence of good and innovative practice from faith groups in addressing social problems.