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Faith, mental health and dementia

PHE dementia resources

This week I was at a very inspiring meeting, all about how faith communities can become more mental health and dementia-friendly. It was organised by Brent Multi-Faith Forum and brought faith groups, mental health professionals and others involved in health and care together. What was clear was how much everybody wanted each other’s help. The speaker from the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service in Brent said that, in his experience, faith could be a huge protective factor for the people he worked with. For example, people would tell him that they might have suicidal thoughts, but they would not act on them because of their faith. His service wants better links with faith groups, so that faith leaders know how to help people refer themselves to it.

On the other hand, representatives of faith communities also wanted a better idea of how the referral process works – but they also had some genuinely difficult questions. How can you help someone who has spiritual beliefs cope with hearing voices? How do you handle someone who disrupts religious meetings or says hurtful things in the belief that they are a prophet? There are no easy answers, but it’s clear that good relationships between mental health services and faith groups can help in the process of supporting people in difficulty.

It all reminded me of a conversation on dementia that I recently took part in, organised by Public Health England (PHE) to coincide with the launch of its new resources on preventing dementia. It was led by Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of PHE, and Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing. I was able to ask these two leaders of the public health system what role they felt that faith communities can play when it comes to tackling dementia, and their answer was clear.

  1. Faith groups can promote social connectedness and address loneliness – which will help to reduce the risk of dementia and also promote wellbeing in general
  2. They can help people to stay physically active (think of the exercise classes, walking groups and sports which many faith communities host) and to have healthy lifestyles – which again help reduce the risk of dementia and of course of many other diseases
  3. They can raise awareness about dementia – and especially of the important new message that there are many aspects of dementia that are preventable

It’s fantastic that people at all levels in the health system are recognising just how important faith is when it comes to tackling these kinds of issues. What about the faith communities? Is there a small step that your organisation could take today, or next week, to become a little more mental health or dementia-friendly? Have a look at our Friendly Places pages if you need some ideas on where to start. And let us know what you are doing!