Mental illness is not just a personal issue, but also an issue for congregations and their communities. Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year, according the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Despite its invisibility, it’s safe to say that every family and every congregation has members and near neighbors who are struggling.
Here are five things that can be done:
- Provide facts about mental illness using a worship bulletin or bulletin board. Include “Warning Signs” (for example: Excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or low, or confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning). Worship bulletin available at NAMI website.
- Invite a speaker to talk about their own experience with mental illness or with a family member who is mentally ill. NAMI offers a list of speakers who give free 90 minute presentations, including a question and answer session with the audience, in order to provide a human face to the issue and overcome stereotypes about mental illness. The program is called “In Our Own Voice.”
- Encourage congregants to take the Stamp Out Stigma Pledge. “As a supporter to those who have a mental illness or substance use disorder, I understand the importance of recognizing the high prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders. I also know that when recognition is coupled with reeducation and understanding, health-seeking action can be taken. These actions lead to recovery, which is possible for everyone. The Three R’s (recognize, reeducate and reduce) depend on each other to effectively Stamp Out Stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders. This is what I, as an individual, charge myself to do—to fully Stamp Out Stigma and clear the path to health-seeking behavior. It begins with me.”
- Offer a lecture series on mental illness. Several years ago, Church of the Risen Savior in Albuquerque, NM, held a lecture series for families called “Afternoon Reflections,” (for example,“Relating to Someone with Schizophrenia” and “Good News About Depression”) alternating these with sessions specifically for the mentally ill. Called “Faith and Friendship” these sessions invited a pairing between mentally ill persons and volunteers in order to share a meal and make new friends.
- Focus specifically on the homeless who are mentally ill. Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, New York, located in an economically challenged section of downtown, often found homeless persons sitting on their steps, walking through their parking lot or attending a free meal offered on Wednesday night. The church recently initiated a program of outreach to the homeless mentally ill, including prison inmates with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. “We are really into advocating for people who can’t always advocate for themselves,” said one church member.
Victor Claman et. al., Acting on Your Faith: Congregations Making a Difference (Boston: Insights, 1994), 37.
“Church Reaches Out to the Homeless,” Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, 2A.
Image: Northeast Public Radio. “Shots: Health News from NPR.” Google Images.