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Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy provides new mental health guide

The ‘2024 Guide for Mental Health Ministry’ can help churches offer mental health outreach.

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Illustration by Jorm Sangsorn.

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One thing that the 20th-wealthiest county in the United States — a south-central Texas community — and a Boston neighborhood, Roxbury, which is riddled with violence and underemployment and is also the home of the R&B music group New Edition, have in common: both are touched by the epidemic of mental illness.

At Darnestown Presbyterian Church in Darnestown, Maryland, a mental health crisis knocked on the door 10 years ago when member Lindsey Hoggle’s daughter made local and then national news when her oldest daughter, who suffered from schizophrenia, attempted to escape her life and take her children Sarah and Jacob with her. A decade later, Sarah and Jacob, who would be 13 and 11, respectively, have never been found. Hoggle’s daughter remains at Perkins Psychiatric Hospital in Maryland.

Last month during Darnestown Presbyterian Church’s Minute for Mission, Hoggle shared, “Soon after my situation and in response to other similar situations in our community, Jill Bremer, a deacon at the time, asserted that we were not talking about mental illness and the impact it has on our community and that DPC should do so. What followed were NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) educational sessions held at Darnestown Presbyterian Church, conversations on what DPC should do as a church, and, in 2019, participation in the Montgomery County NAMIWalk.”

At Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Boston, the Social Impact Center was founded in 2000 with a mission to create and implement educational and economic development programs to strengthen the Roxbury community.  The center’s nonprofit partner is Roxbury Presbyterian Church; programs are secular and open to all, regardless of religious affiliation.

Since 2014, the Cory Johnson Program has been a Christ-inspired, community-based, clinically-supported nonprofit program of the Social Impact Center that offers a peer-centered approach to addressing post-traumatic stress in urban neighborhoods. The program fosters connection and empowers individuals to take active roles in helping themselves and others heal.

At Covenant Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, mental health ministry has been a passion for the Rev. Dan Milford for more than a decade. The church’s Beautiful Minds Coalition is a team dedicated to making mental health a normal and open topic of discussion at the church. Covenant Presbyterian Church was one of the founding congregations to bring awareness of mental health ministries with the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network.

As a result of this work, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy now has a mental health resource available. Since 2020, many congregations have recognized the importance of faith communities taking an active role in community mental health efforts. As sensitive as the topic can be, getting started can be daunting if people do not feel adequately equipped to deal with this level of service and programming. The 2024 Guide for Mental Health Ministry is a great place to start.

The guide is categorized into three sections. The first encourages the cultivation of mental health ministries; the second offers a theological framework; and the third provides suggestions on how to build and use networks and community connections.

Since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. This resource specifically fits this year’s theme, “Where to Start?”

This guide is intended to encourage congregations to educate themselves regarding the contemporary needs of individuals and families experiencing serious mental illness and to point toward a wide variety of resources available to congregations as they nurture mental health ministries within their contexts.

by Shani E. McIlwain, Presbyterian News Service