Taking First Steps Toward a Mental Health Ministry

by Rev. Alan Johnson

When I was a minister in a local church, I faced lots of challenges, not the least of which was the time pressure and the list of things that need to be done that is never completely empty. There is always more to  do than time and energy allow. Sound familiar?

That is one of the reasons why paying attention to people who are affected by mental illness is not high on the priority list of many clergy. Follow up with people who are experiencing depression. Learn more about bipolar disorder. Initiate a spiritual support program in your church for persons living with a mental illness and/or their families. Volunteer to be part of the local National Alliance on Mental Illness. Attend local educational programs about mental illness. Sit down and talk with the members of your faith community who work in mental health care. Select a couple people in your faith community to focus on mental health and find ways to extend your hospitality to those who are affected by mental illness. These are among the possible the possible first steps you can take.

However, many clergy do not follow this path.  Unless of course, they  find themselves involved in a congregant’s mental health crisis. Even then, it is unusual for a faith community leader to have ready access to the information for making a referral, let alone understand enough about the mental health crisis to offer some positive steps to take. Realizing that 1 out of 4 people in your faith community is affected by mental illness, being aware, is the first step.  We also know that clergy are the first ones that a majority of people who are affected by mental illness turn to for support and understanding. Being equipped helps you minister appropriately.

The good news: Many resources are available to help you. Specifically, this Caring Clergy Project website (for example, see the video on starting a spiritual support group in your faitth community), the NAMI.org website and NAMI FaithNet.  These websites are based on  the best information available to date on mental health issues. I encourage you to peruse these as well as stay tuned on this blog for more connection.

And I’d love to hear what you are doing in your congregation to provide support and hospitality to people with mental illnesses and their families. What would you recommend as best practices for clergy who want to take a first step in developing a mental health ministry in their congregation?

Alan Johnson,

Interfaith Network on Mental Illness and Caring Clergy Project

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.