March 2, 2023

Helping Faith Communities Turn to Mental Health

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Helping Faith Communities Turn to Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 4 individuals will struggle with a mental disorder in a given year.  The numbers are real and are strikingly clear, many will experience or will know someone who is suffering from an emotional struggle. Let’s review the facts, and I’ll make some suggestions for how the church in partnership with therapeutic services can offer healing and support when people express feeling overwhelmed.

How Many People Are Actually Effected?

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA), states in their 2014 survey that in the former year 20.2 million adults or 8.4% of the population had a substance abuse disorder and that out of those, 7.9 million people experienced both mental disorders along with substance use disorders. These combined are called co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.

This means that within a faith community gathering, 1 in 4 adults are struggling with feeling emotionally overwhelmed and potentially 8.4% of this community may suffer from substance abuse.  I note struggles with substance abuse here, because often times emotional distress and abuse go hand in hand.

The Path Towards Emotional Wellness

In an effort to identify the cause of emotional distress, we often first look to medical providers,  medications, our friends & family, and then if faith is important to you-a spiritual mentor or pastor.  This absolutely makes sense! If this is your first time experiencing emotional distress, it may take this searching to truly assess the root of the problem and then the right level of support. It’s often true, that we do not seek out support in therapy until what we are doing to care for ourselves is no longer working.

In addition, those who struggle with mental illness AND ascribe to a Christian faith may struggle to seek out therapeutic services.  Some struggle to seek out therapeutic support because they believe the cause of this distress is spiritual. Instead, they may continue to meditate and read spiritual readings in hopes that their distress will decrease.  They seek out support from pastors and leaders of the church for healing and answers.

Faith and Emotional Healing

Faith and the practices of one’s faith is such an asset for many as it offers hope, meaning in life, and meaning in places of suffering.  Faith can point someone to being more mindful or centered within oneself, being present to this moment instead of worrying about tomorrow.  Faith can point us to pay attention to the glory of creation around us. Faith encourages many to turn away from their suffering and instead care for the needs of others.  Faith communities seek to be a place of caring for the weak, vulnerable and oppressed. Faith is a good thing. Overall faith is an incredible resource to individuals. In my practice I seek to help people truly cultivate their faith as a strength.

And yet, I believe that not everything is a “spiritual problem” that can be solved in a spiritual way alone.  When the emotional distress begins to overwhelm to the point of impacting our ability to work, care for our families, be present to our communities, and complete the tasks we are assigned to, therapy can offer a place of healing and restoration.

How Faith Communities Can Partner Around Mental Health To Be A Source Of Healing and Hope For Those That Are In Emotional Distress:

  • Offer financial support to those who may desire to seek therapy.  Money is often a barrier for those who would like to receive this support.
  • Offer a workshop within the church that can increase awareness of mental illness and the types of therapeutic services that are out there. Counseling providers, including us here at Optimum Joy, are readily willing to speak on key issues to communities if asked.
  • Seek out families within the church that have a loved one who is suffering from mental illness.  They are good experts on the struggles and triumphs that they have faced in helping someone get connected to providers.
  • Create a referral list of therapists that you trust and respect.  Utilize those contacts as a place for consultation when unclear of how to offer support to someone.
  • Offer stories of those within scripture who have suffered from emotional distress.
  • Encourage those who struggle with emotional distress to share their testimony.  Leaders within a community that openly communicate their own emotional distress and connection to therapeutic services are more likely to suggest this support for their community.
  • Provide prayer time centered around emotional restoration.
  • Offer support groups that are either peer-led or led by a mental health provider.
  • Include hospital visits to those who are on the behavioral health units.
  • If someone is receiving therapy, ask if they would be willing to sign a Release of Information so that the therapist could collaborate with the faith community.
  • Link to community resources or case management services for support with Social Security, Medicaid, health care benefits, housing needs, food pantries etc. if your church does not offer this.

Other Resources

I encourage you to seek out other supports within the community that offer knowledge and support to those that are struggling emotionally.  While it’s true that the hurting and broken often search for community and healing within the church, God uses many places for healing. Here are just a few:

Another great resource is “Troubled Minds:  Mental Illness and the Church & Missions” by Amy Simpson.  Her last chapter on practical tips for the church is enriched by her reflections from personal experience with mental illness in her own family. It is informative, hopeful, and encouraging towards partnership of the church and mental health providers.

As someone who has experience working with Severe Mental Illness for almost a decade, I’d love to connect more with you.  If you have questions about emotional distress or severe mental illness or are trying to figure out if therapy is right for you.  Please do not hesitate to call! Also if you are representative of a community who is curious to partner more with local mental health, reach out to myself and Optimum Joy staff today. We would love to be a guiding light.

Written by therapist Pamela Larkin

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