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FAITH

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Widespread change starts with the individual. Someone who believes in a cause and is willing to advocate on behalf of it. Doing so isn't always easy. It takes time, energy and perseverance. But when enough of us decide to fight for change, we make that change a reality.

Our community advocacy pillars represent five areas of modern society that are in need of mental health reform — our schools, homes, work environments, places of worship and government institutions. Each pillar offers high-level advocacy recommendations for those willing to get involved on a community level. 

When it comes to places of worship, mental health advocacy is all about welcoming emotional openness, creating systems of support and making lifesaving resources accessible.

Looking to be a mental health champion within your religious community? Let's dive deeper:

Principles

1) Listen to Members Who Need Support

For someone battling a mental condition, it can be hard to find empathetic and trustworthy outlets. They might fear telling family and friends about their struggles out of embarrassment or risk of repercussions. They might not be emotionally ready to start therapy, or can’t afford it. Religious institutions have long been accessible outlets for emotional support. During times of hardship, it’s extremely important that members have people they can confide in who are willing to listen and provide guidance*.

Religious institutions should creates outlets for members to confide in one another, as well as reach leaders within the organization for emotional support. Communication tips* should be disseminated so people know to ask the right questions and express genuine concern. Those in important roles should be trained to recognize warning signs and approach members who seem distressed. They should encourage children in the community to talk about their feelings and emotional health with their families, friends, teachers and role models. Buddy or companion programs can connect community members to another so they have a partner during tough times. Volunteer events can keep people busy, social and involved. And simple reminders that support is never far, like motivational flyers, reading materials or newsletters, can a long way.

2) Create and Share Educational Materials

Religious institutions offer so much more than a belief system or place of prayer. They frequently provide other crucial services to the community, such as daycare, food assistance programs, recreational activities, and of course, educational initiatives. Many religious institutions play an ongoing role in teaching their community about traditions, history, sacred texts and ways of existing righteously. But there’s no need for educational opportunities to be limited to those topics.

Invest in creating and disseminating helpful mental health materials to the community. Print out brochures, fliers and workbooks about common disorders, symptoms and treatment options. Share educational videos and articles with members. Host presentations and workshops that discuss mental health, mindfulness and how to help one another. If you’re in a leadership position, find funding for training courses, mentorship programs or treatment assistance programs. If you’re not, reach out to other members to discuss fighting for the resources you’d find helpful. You can also dedicate your own time to starting a support group, hosting art nights or other healing-based activities, or sharing materials that you’ve found informative. Lastly, any childhood education programs should add mental health content and lesson plans to their agenda so children are introduced to the topic early on.

3) Ingrain Mental Wellness into Your Belief System

Religion is a highly personal experience. What a person seeks to gain from their religious community and belief system varies greatly depending on who you talk to. For some, it’s about family tradition or moral guidance, for others, it’s about getting involved in their local community. No matter the reason, faith should be a positive force* in a person’s life. It should help guide the decisions one makes, the people and things they prioritize, and the values they uphold. Religious institutions are often pillars of their communities. They bring people together, inspire intimacy and connection, and serve as a crucial outlet during times of hardship. That’s why it’s so important that they prioritize the topic of mental wellness in their practices and beliefs.

Despite all the good that can come from being apart of a faith-based community, sometimes hardship is met with silence instead of support. Mental health has a long history of being a topic that gets shut down by those in power. It’s on religious leaders to not only mention it, but make a point of vocalizing their support for those battling a mental health condition, offer help, and encourage the community at large to care. Empathy should be worked into gatherings and spiritual practices in whatever form they come in. And if previous religious leaders, texts or beliefs have been critical of mental health conditions, current leaders should work to denounce those mistakes and move forward down a more understanding path.

4) Work With Other Pillars of the Community

While religious institutions can provide a wide range of support, it is not their job to be the sole champion or provider of care in a community. Schools systems, government organizations, political leaders, businesses, healthcare providers and activists should partner with religious leaders to make the biggest impact. When those with power divide responsibilities and bolster one another’s agendas, the whole community benefits.

Reach out to teachers and administrators and discuss ways to create and distribute educational resources about mental health. Partner on after school programs, or peer support groups, that aid families battling mental health conditions. Talk to local politicians about policy changes that will benefit your community. How can they help find money and resources for programs that will reach those most in need? Work with activists to host events and fight for political or social progress. Research the ways in which government organizations can provide support to the immediate community, whether it be through free screenings, emergency services, law enforcement training or programs for at-risk youth. Make sure you look inwards as well. Who in your community is interested in becoming a mentor or advocate? Encourage people to use their voice outside of group gatherings, and spread your organization’s message online and in the real world.

5) Establish Models for Helping Those In Need

Education is important. It raises awareness about the signs of a mental health condition and better equips communities for intervening in the lives of those who need help. However, it’s equally as important to invest time, energy and money in recovery plans and treatment support. Healing truly begins when people are placed on a path to recovery that meets their individual needs.

Start by compiling information about local treatment options — clinics, helplines, doctors, mindfulness classes — and sharing them with members. Promote emergency services and create crisis plans for helping those battling a severe breakdown or episode. Invest in preventative measures like mental health screenings and early detection services, such as having professionals on site at youth events. Reach out to local healthcare providers or clinics and have them discuss and explain their services with members. If possible, establish partnerships* with nonprofits and other aid organizations. Find ways for them to implement their services in relevant programs, workshops and classes. And finally, look into initiatives that improve a person’s chance at stability, like housing programs, job assistance programs, daycare, tutoring and transportation services. When a person’s life is on track, they are far more likely to prioritize recovery or avoid relapses or episodes.

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