Case Studies — Mental Health: Friendly Places

These case studies were collected as part of our Friendly Places initiative.

Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue

Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue (NPLS) has recently developed a focus on mental health and wellbeing, sparked by a recognition that great difficulties are prevalent in society and that members of its own community were facing mental health issues. Friendly Places has helped NPLS to recognise that as a place of faith, it has a significant part to play in meeting the needs of its community in the area of mental health. The synagogue has come to understand how important it is for it to provide resources, safe spaces and activities that can help bring a sense of meaning in people’s lives.

One of the rabbis states that this process has led him to be personally much more aware of mental health and wellbeing issues in the community. For example, he sees his role not just as to lead prayers but also to look around the room and see how people are doing, and to notice whether anyone is absent who he would expect to be there, and to follow up with them later.

Since signing the Friendly Places pledge, NPLS has begun a number of activities, including setting up a monthly ‘Singing for the Soul’ group. The idea of this is to use singing to boost members’ own wellbeing, and also to empower them with confidence to help others in the same way, as the group has visited a care home to sing with the residents. The community also offers one-to-one sessions with a Care Coordinator, and has trained one of its members as a hospital visitor for people with mental health issues.

NPLS is also recognising the importance of working in partnership with other organisations, and has established a fortnightly drop-in session at a daycare centre run by Jewish Care. This provides a hot meal and activities for people who are lonely or have memory difficulties. The synagogue is also planning to establish a befriending service and support for carers. By working strategically in partnership, NPLS is learning that although it might not have expertise in a specific area, it can work with others who do. The synagogue also has a contribution to bring, and by complementing each other the organisations can achieve something together that they would not be able to do separately.

Nishkam Centre

The Nishkam Centre in Birmingham is a Sikh faith-inspired organisation working for the benefit of all communities. It was founded by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ), a Sikh faith-based organisation dedicated to Nishkam Sewa (active, selfless volunteering) to serve the common good.

The centre hosted a Friendly Places training session in February 2016, with participants from different faith groups and some mental health professionals. Since this time, the centre continues to support the initiative and fulfil its pledge by raising awareness of Friendly Places and making connections with related services such as Sikh Rogi Aasra (Chaplaincy Services) and the Places of Welcome initiative. Places of Welcome is a network of faith-based, faith-inspired and community organisations that offer an unconditional welcome, providing refreshments, basic local information and people to listen.

The Nishkam Centre is sharing the message in the local community that individuals experiencing mental health problems are welcomed into the centre and treated with dignity, respect and sensitivity.  It has placed signs in its window and foyer area, and updated its website to show how it is linked with and supportive of the Places of Welcome initiative. As part of this, it provides a weekly coffee morning, staffed by volunteers. On International Women’s Day on 8 March, a special coffee and cake event was held for women, providing a space in which women felt comfortable to share achievements and concerns.

The centre’s chaplain reports that people come into the building to speak with her when they are feeling stressed or low, and she is monitoring the numbers of people who take up this offer, and connecting them as appropriate with other support services.

The Nishkam Centre’s future plans for Friendly Places include working with the other GNNSJ initiatives, such as its health centre; adding the Friendly Places logo to leaflets about its offer; and training more of its volunteers (Sewadars) in hospitality and awareness of mental health issues. A number of Nishkam Security’s staff and volunteers attended the Friendly Places training as they are often the first people to meet and greet individuals. One of them commented at a follow-up meeting after six weeks: “I think as security guards we always try to assist, and going to the training … further enhanced and enriched what we were trying to do”.

Trinity Church, Sutton

A member of Trinity Church attended Friendly Places training by FaithAction, which started a long process of discussion within the church. The church decided to sign the Friendly Places pledge, and in preparation arranged a meeting after a Sunday service, where an invited speaker from a local mental health charity talked about what it is like to live with mental health issues. The meeting was attended by around 30 members of the congregation, including people with a professional interest in mental health, people who were themselves grappling with mental health issues, those with family members or neighbours affected and others who just wanted to find out more. In the course of the meeting a number of people spoke movingly about ways in which they or their families had been affected by mental ill-health. This meeting helped the church decided to sign the pledge.

Since then, mental health has had a growing profile in the church. The minister says he is much more aware of mental health issues and more inclined to think deliberately about them and make reference to them in church services. Members of the congregation seem more willing to talk and there are more conversations going on.   Several significant personal disclosures have been made in the course of regular meetings and these have led to useful discussions.

Trinity considers that signing the pledge has been a useful and significant step and people are beginning to ask “What comes next?” The church is considering this and is planning a meeting close to World Mental Health Day at which people will be invited to say what they think has changed since last year’s meeting and what remains to be done. This meeting will use “Ways to become a friendlier place” as a key reference document and tool for self-appraisal.

The church is part of a local partnership of churches, and has included some references to mental health and events like World Mental Health Day in the partnership’s magazine. It is now planning to publicise the “Friendly Places” initiative more widely through other local publications

Christ Central Church, Redhill

Attending a Friendly Places training session in 2014 was the catalyst for a process of review for Christ Central, looking at how prepared the church was to deal with mental health issues, and what its approach to these issues should ‘look like’. This coincided with the incidence among church members of a number of pastoral issues that had a mental health dimension. The result of these two circumstances arising at the same time has led to a much greater awareness of mental health among the church leaders and members of the congregation.

For example, training within the church has been enhanced, with over 30 members with leadership responsibilities having attended an external mental health-related training course. This includes the leader of the ‘welcoming team’ who greet people at church services, and for those responsible for prayer ministry, pastoral care and children’s activities. Such people are now aware that on any Sunday there are likely to be people attending the service who, unbeknown to anyone present, have mild or significant mental health issues. The welcoming team are more equipped to identify people attending services who might be suffering from mental health issues, to ask appropriate questions and listen well, and to follow up any causes for concern. They are also aware that mental health can be an aspect of other issues too. Among the congregation is a GP with responsibility for IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) in the local area, who has been able to advise church leaders on mental health issues.

The leaders therefore feel more confident in relating to people facing mental health issues, which has also meant they are able to be more welcoming – and more able to act when they identify people experiencing problems. In one case, a leader spotted that someone leaving the church centre was evidently in difficulty, followed the person and eventually prevented them from taking their own life. They are also more aware of when and how they need to involve professional support: for example, knowing the questions they might ask a person about their relationship with their GP, and the emergency telephone number for the local crisis team.

Links with local services have increased and Christ Central now routinely hosts local IAPT services within the church building, and has also hosted a six-week ‘Emotion Gym’ run by the NHS and Virgin Care, helping people maintain and improve their mental wellbeing. Future plans include running a centre where people can come for client meetings, potentially staffed by a nurse practitioner. The church also continues to offer what one of its leaders calls ‘mental health triage’ through its regular pastoral care. A church leader describes Friendly Places as the first resource that the church has found helpful in looking at mental health from a faith perspective, and something that sparked a significant improvement in terms of the church being equipped to support people with mental health issues.

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