Why should mental health matter to faith communities?
Tuesday 10 October is World Mental Health Day. This matters to us at FaithAction because we’re convinced that faith communities have a real, positive role to play when it comes to supporting mental health – for several reasons.
They are places where people can connect with others, feel they belong, and gain a sense of meaning in life. Places where people have time to listen, and are able to support others practically, emotionally and spiritually. They’re also places where people can be empowered to see that they can contribute to the life of the community – that they have something to give. And often, an individual’s faith is a source of strength to draw on to help them in times of illness and as they recover.
However, we know that too often mental health is still misunderstood – and it’s something people aren’t always comfortable talking about. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been working with the mental health charity Mind to make better links between faith groups and local Mind branches.
There’s No Health Like Mental Health
This is the name of one of the projects we’re supporting along with Mind, run by Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes awareness of mental health and dementia in faith communities and in the wider community, with Caritas Westminster, the Catholic social action charity.
The project has run a programme of mental health awareness sessions in in parishes across the Diocese of Westminster. “There is plenty of scope for this approach elsewhere,” says director Ben Bano. He points out that despite recent campaigns and publicity to raise the profile of mental health in the community, a great deal of stigma still remains associated with the topic.
“We need to remember that one in four of us is likely to consult our GP over stress related issues,” he says. “Research suggests that men are much less likely to talk about mental health issues than women and the suicide rate for men is up to three times greater than that of women.” He adds, “There is an increasing focus on the mental health needs of young people in an insecure and often challenging world.”
So what can faith groups do?
Ben suggests a number of practical things that parish communities can do to help become welcoming environments for those with mental health issues – who are often those likely to be on the fringes of the parish community. These tips relate to a Catholic setting but many of them will translate to other faith settings as well.
- Help to make welcomers aware of people looking lonely or isolated and ensure that they are invited to tea and coffee after Mass if possible.
- Include in prayers of intercession people with mental health as well as physical conditions.
- Organise a ‘Healing Mass’ for those troubled in mind and body with an opportunity to be anointed as many people find this sacrament very helpful.
- Organise a notice board in the church (perhaps in conjunction with the local Mind charity) on helpful sources of counselling and support.
- Organise a ‘mental health first aid’ course to equip those in visiting and pastoral roles to be more aware of mental health issues and signpost people for specialist help as required.
- Develop social groups to address loneliness and social isolation, which can be a precursor to mental illness, particularly in older age.
I believe that there is a significant and positive role for faith communities to play in the support of mental health.
I pledge to support faith groups in my community to become Friendly Places which welcome and support those struggling with their mental health.