Bridging the Divide Between Church and Serious Mental Illness: Inclusion & Help for Families at Risk


Welcome to the Journal. Our intention is to write short, yet informative, pieces about serious mental illness that will educate and inspire compassion. We know that there are numerous websites you can visit for general information about illnesses like Schizophrenia, for example. Instead of a generic list of symptoms, we're going to share about the real life situations behind the labels and diagnosis. Names and circumstances may be slightly altered, but we believe there are some exceptional individuals you should meet. People who live right in your own backyard (so to speak). So sit back, grab a cup of coffee and spend a few brief moments with our Journal.


Going there

When I (Deborah) first began attending NAMI family support group meetings I was overwhelmed by the extent of suffering each family was experiencing. There were common threads between our stories and this brought a sense of much needed relief and empathy. One comparable theme soon rose to the surface: faith was important to many families. At the same time, I soon learned, churches were often ill prepared to deal with the crisis situations these families were facing. 

It is definitely not our goal to bash churches, on the contrary, our desire is to highlight the need and to inspire confidence in caring for people in crisis. I truly believe it is simply a matter of not knowing the how of caring. Faith groups represent only a fraction of the segments of our society that have far to go in learning about and caring for people with more significant needs. But since it is important to many people, we're taking the time to write about it - I guess you could say, we're "going there."  I will never forget one story in particular, I even tracked down the family member and asked their permission to share it here:

"Our loved one was diagnosed with a Serious Mental Illness at the age of 21. She was married with a child at that time. Fast forward 8 years, and she was divorced, delusional, and looked like a street person. She made an attempt to attend services at her church and was unable to sit still during the service (due to symptoms of her illness), so she went into the lobby where she could listen to the sermon by herself. One of the elders told her she had to leave due to her appearance. This was someone that had known her since she was 13 years old. She disappeared that day and it took a year to get her back home and back into treatment. When meeting with the leadership, there was little understanding or discussion about inclusion of all people in the church. We left our home church shortly after this."

Why is the faith community so important to families in crisis? Another family member writes: "The support of the church (as long as they don't demonize the ill or blame the mother) is crucial to us as caregivers. Although prayer may not in some or many cases change the outcome of these terrible brain diseases, they bring love, compassion and spiritual support that we as human beings require in order to carry on." 

So where do we go from here? Is it even possible to bridge the great divide of inclusion and help for those with more significant mental health needs, or other crisis, in our places of worship? We believe it is possible and we want to help. Crisis Care Team training for faith groups is a good place to start. We know it's quite a few months away, but we want to give you a heads up that our next training is taking place in the Fall of 2017. Please keep it on the radar.  

In the mean time you can join us at the East Valley Behavioral Health Coalition's FREE event, "Accessing the Adult Behavioral Health Services in Arizona" on April 22, 8:30 am-12:00 pm at Sovereign Grace Church in Gilbert, AZ. This event seeks to resource our community about the on-ramps to services and resources for adults with behavioral health needs. To RSVP and find more information, go here.

It's a start. And we think it's a pretty good one. Please join us, we want to help you so you can help others.