One in four Americans annually experience mental health issues ranging in severity from temporary psychological distress to serious depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, yet less than one-third of these Americans receives appropriate care, often because of the stigma associated with these illnesses and their treatments.
American Baptist Home Mission Societies wants to help change these statistics for the better. That is why we’re providing leadership through the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, a program of the American Association of People with Disabilities, in its partnership with the American Psychiatric Association. This effort brings together religious leaders and psychiatrists to determine how we can better collaborate to reduce stigma and provide help and healing for those will mental health conditions.
This partnership grew out of a conversation with Paul Summergrad, head of the department of psychiatry at Tufts University and president of the APA. We met over lunch at the White House Conference on Mental Health on June 3, 2013. As we talked about the respective aims and interests of our organizations, we recognized we each had something to offer the other. So we decided to meet again the next time Dr. Summergrad was in Washington.
Subsequently, we brought together the leadership of IDAC and APA for a series of meetings to further the work we will do together, which began with a gathering of religious leaders and psychiatrists at APA’s headquarters in July 2014. At this Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership Meeting, participants sought to bring the best of their respective traditions and practices to bear together to create resources and opportunities for mutual understanding and action among members of the faith and psychiatric communities. Our discussion centered on the following goals:
• Establishing an ongoing dialogue between psychiatrists and clergy;
• Surveying organizations and resources that are already active at the intersection of mental health and faith;
• Acknowledging and addressing the stress and mental health needs of clergy and other religious leaders;
• Creating new resources to train religious leaders about mental health issues;
• Improving mental health education offered in seminaries and pastoral and continuing education programs;
• Exploring ways for medical schools and psychiatric residency training programs to address the importance of faith communities as a component of mental health recovery;
• Creating new resources which are useful to psychiatrists about faith and faith communities in mental health recovery.
Some of those who attended the meeting are contributors to the latest issue of The Christian Citizen, which focuses on “Communities of Care: The Church and Mental Illness.” Their words, and those of others in this issue, speak with a wisdom borne of personal or familial experience as well as years of ministry with those with mental health conditions. They are witnesses to the inadequacies of current community-based services and supports for individuals and families but also to what is possible when we step out in love and service in ministry with those with mental illness.
It is our hope this issue will spark an interest in mental health ministry in churches throughout the United States and that congregations already engaged in this ministry will find new resources and encouragement. Moreover, we continue to hope and anticipate the good God will do in and through the Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership to reduce stigma and improve the quality and accessibility of care for individuals and families living with mental illness.