A Free Mental Health Guide For Faith Leaders

If you do not already know, Dr. Grcevich has a book called Mental Health and the Church. It is the definitive guide for beginning to integrate faith with mental health at your church. For those who are serious about beginning this conversation, and want to care for those with mental illness in your church, it’s what you need to know. But for some, the conversation is not about the beginning stages of integrating the two fields together, but the beginning stages of beginning to talk about it. 

In counseling, there is a theoretical orientation called The Transtheoretical Model, better known as Stages of Change. It was developed by Carlo DiClemente and James Prochaska, originally to help people quit smoking. The model is now used for substance use, mental health treatments as well as couples’ counseling and career counseling. The model starts with the Precontemplation Stage of Change. In an oversimplified explanation, it is “thinking about" thinking about change. We aren’t considering change; instead, we might be in denial or not realizing a change needs to happen.

Many churches find themselves in this stage, with regards to integrating faith and mental health. We are not talking about how to do it, budget needs, or who would be a good team lead. No, we are at a place of that first talk with a pastor, where a concerned layperson might discuss whether churches should be worried about mental health. This might be when crisis or tragedy struck two towns over and it got people thinking.

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Mental Health: A Guide for Faith Leaders

This free guide is written by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APA Guide) in collaboration with the Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership Steering Committee. The purpose of the guide is to equip faith community leaders, as “faith community leaders are gatekeepers or ‘first responders’ when individuals and families face mental health or substance use problems.” Further, “people experiencing mental health concerns often turn first to a faith leader.”

The APA Guide covers the basics of mental illness in a brief and concise way, suitable for a busy pastor without any formal clinical training. If you are searching for more thorough training, I’d recommend doing a Mental Health First Aid training course or requesting more training and information from your local National Institute on Mental Illness chapter.

Who Is This For?

The APA Guide discusses how faith leaders can begin to support their community in simple, practical ways. It should be noted this is best when supplemented with other, more thorough content and this guide should serve as the initial starting point of talking about integrating mental health activities and mindsets into your church. I caution you to make this the first and last bit of research before starting to add pieces to your church.

The APA Guide is a great resource to training for all new staff, all new elders or deacons who come on board at your church, head ministry volunteers, crisis response teams as well as any security teams you may have. Because of its design and being free, this is perfect to have members read through before an orientation or retreat training.

The APA also offers a quick reference tool on mental illness for faith leaders. For some churches, this might be a nice refresher to use as a quick reference that you keep in a drawer in your office. When a crisis hits, you have something to look through before you run out the door to the hospital or an individual’s home.

Maybe the biggest purpose of this book is to help someone who wishes to see more churches implement some kind of mental health ministry. If you are a lay leader, a concerned parent with a family member who has life-impacting mental illness symptoms, a forward-thinking intern, or happened upon a discussion Facebook group discussion and were interested in learning a little more, I urge you to read through this and share it with leadership. Send it to the senior pastor, discipleship pastor, or relevant person at your church and then ask to meet up for coffee and talk about the guide. Fish around to see if there is interest. If so, next steps might be to get Dr. Grcevich’s book and look for further assessment options. 

At this point, I want to dialogue with you in the comments below. What ways do you see this guide being helpful for your church? If had had this resource before you began to integrate a mental health inclusion ministry, how would things have been different? Sound off below.

Jeremy Smith is a clinical mental health counselor in Ohio and founder of www.churchandmentalhealth.com.