A lot of people are talking right now about how to get churches involved in providing mental health services. Given that people who attend church are — statistically — healthier than the general public, maybe we should start by looking at the services churches already provide that benefit people’s mental health.
Existing Mental Health Programs in Churches
Churches typically have not picked up SAMHSA’s evidence-based programs and replicated them precisely, so most programs in churches don’t technically count as “evidence-based.” Still, much of what churches take as their fundamental responsibilities before God looks a lot like what SAMHSA is trying to get communities to implement:
- Mentoring programs
- Activity programs for older adults
- Training in moral judgment
- Family support programs
- Parenting training
- Programs for children of divorcing parents
- Nurse-family partnerships (particularly in African-American churches)
- Outdoor experiential education (summer camps)
In addition, NAMI Family to Family is usually offered in church buildings, although it does not have a faith component.
Stephen Ministries in many churches parallel the evidence-based Compeer, although supporting many kinds of needs, not just persons with mental-health needs. In that regard, a Stephen Ministry could be argued to offer the same kind of service as Compeer to persons with mental illness, but without any suggestion of stigma.
Why Are Churches Perceived as Lacking Services?
Those of us in the faith community tend not to let science measure what we do. And, from the other side, those in the scientific community tend to be a bit uncomfortable with some of what we do. A warm hug may be considered measurable as a sign of affection. But wrap that hug in tongues-spoken Pentecostal prayer and its measure becomes confounding.
It has been nearly a quarter century since a Harvard study found the single most important predictive factor in the life success of young urban males was regular church attendance. You would think that as our datasets get bigger and our ability to pull information from them more sophisticated, we would know much more about how it is that churches help people succeed.
Right now, we simply know that they do. And we know that the mental health world doesn’t know that our faith community is contributing to the mental health of our world.
Does your church help your own stability? How?