The church where our family worships and serves is located at the north end of a geographic area that historically has had deep pockets of poverty, low educational attainment and below average life expectancy. Not surprisingly, mental health needs in this area are significant and often intersect with these issues.
The Cameron Foundation (the Foundation) exists to improve the health and vibrancy of this region, and periodically conducts surveys to identify some of the pressing unmet needs, as well as identify strategies for improvement. In addition to economic recommendations, the Foundation identifies some tangible needs that can be viewed as a starting point for mental health ministry.
For example, in the Foundation’s 2013 report, a significant number of recommendations pertained to mental health. Among the general mental health recommendations, the report noted the need for increased collaboration within the community, the need for reduction in mental illness stigma, and early intervention or prevention strategies for less severe mental health needs. These identified needs are consistent with what we wrote about last month. A few of the tangible things the Foundation recommended were community education aimed at reducing stigma and increasing the number of available mental health support groups, such Alcoholics Anonymous, NAMI and similar organizations.
Mental health ministry might mean your church is providing the things mentioned above, but it might mean stepping out to do something to creatively meet a unique need in your church or local community. Mental health ministry can be based on not only knowing who to refer a person to for treatment, but provide your community opportunities to reduce survival stresses that lead to mental health crises.
Reducing Survival Stresses
The Foundation’s most recent report noted that a significant number of people in this region do not have a vehicle, in an area where public transportation is sparse. No transportation dramatically limits opportunities for employment. For several years, my church leveraged the car repair skills of several of our members by accepting donated vehicles, repairing them and giving them to individuals who found themselves without transportation and no means to buy a new car.
What are some unique issues in your community? What are some of the survival stresses that your church could step into to provide relief? What are some of the passions and interests of your church members that can be used to meet tangible needs? If you’re unsure where to start, look for an organization like the Cameron Foundation in your community to help you identify local needs.
Unique and Specific Mental Health Supports
Proactively, creatively addressing known needs might mean that your church provides meeting space for a sexual abuse survivors support group. Many churches provide seminars on bullying prevention, others are providing Mental Health First Aid to their staff and lay leaders. If your church is located in an area with a large military population, offering a support group for veterans may create a shortcut to mental health services for this often vulnerable group of people.
Mental health ministry is sometimes hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. We’re called to serve where we can, right where He has placed us. The heart of mental health ministry is seeing a problem from a different angle, and building relationships that provide hope.
Call to Action: The Church exists to worship and serve Jesus and serve people. By providing the hope found in relationship with Christ to others in a fresh creative way, the Church has tremendous opportunity to meet mental health needs and positively impact the watching world.
Next month’s blog post will focus on the most important aspect of mental health ministry: the Platinum Rule.
Free resources and articles: A few places where churches have taken unique and proactive stances on mental health ministry include (1) churches participating in the Hogg Foundation’s mental health initiatives, (2) churches offering mental health first aid training, (3) a church in Smyrna,TN came alongside the local Karen refugee population to meet tangible needs and ultimately provided significant community and mental health supports (4) churches providing a mental health support course for new moms (5) how churches are addressing the mental health needs of the African American community .