Congregations Can Support Mental Health

Congregations Can Support Mental Health

Last April, I wrote a blog titled Mental Health and Suicide Resources discussing the unique circumstances of the pandemic such as isolation, loss of a job, uncertainty and anxiety, which are all risk factors for suicide.  In fact in a Survey of US adults age 18 and older conducted during June 24-30, 2020, 40% reported feeling challenged by mental health issues or substance abuse ( Symptoms of anxiety and depression, trauma/stressor related symptoms, increased substance abuse, and serious consideration of suicide were often reported.

Increased awareness of the pandemic’s negative impact on mental health most likely helped the new 988 Hotline legislation get passed. The National Alliance on Mental Illness announced that Congress passed new legislation to create the 988 Hotline for Mental Health Emergencies with bi-partisan support. The 988 Hotline will not go into effect until July 2022. Until then, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) will remain in effect. It has been reported that calls to the Lifeline have increased by 6% during the pandemic. The 988 Hotline will be easier for people to remember so they can access services more quickly in time of crisis.

The need to encourage resiliency and hope across the country is ongoing. We must continue to strive to care for ourselves and others in mind, body, and spirit.
Awareness of the signs of mental illness can help reduce stigma and help people get the care they need. Professional counseling, psychiatrist care, and medical care are helpful; however there are ways that clergy, and others can help family, friends and communities.
In a recent article for Psychiatric Times, Care of the Soul in the time of COVID-19, Ronald Pies, MD discusses how the pandemic “can assault the soul.” There has been a lot of conversation in the media about how the pandemic may increase the risk of anxiety, depression, sleep issues and other common reactions to stressful events. The long duration of the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding how and when life will get back to “normal” is intensifying our distress as a population.

While these symptoms do not necessarily mean a person has a diagnosable mental illness, it remains important to intentionally work to promote well-being. Pies references Thomas Moore’s definition of soul in terms of relatedness, heart, and depth, leading us into the sacred. He proposes that the pandemic “unsettles our minds… and our souls.” Impotence, grief, loneliness, mistrust and displacement are the five assaults on the soul Pies discusses. I encourage you to read the article to learn more about these assaults. Pies’ suggestions for ways to respond to the deep challenges to our souls include: therapy techniques with professional counselors, gratitude practices, and practices of religious or spiritual nature. 
Acknowledging our pain, distress and uncertainty is a good way to begin the journey toward well-being.  We do not have to always be cheerful or ignore the realities around us. Our faith life can help us keep some perspective, allow time for us to feel gratitude and the power of love. Prayer, meditation, exercise, good nutrition and connection with others, even remotely, will help. We are in fact all in this together.

I hope you can join me in attending the WISE webinar.  I have used the WISE Pledge in congregations.  We pledge to work to be Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged to truly live the life and ministry of Jesus in caring for ourselves and others.

Here are some resources for accurate information you can use:

***The UCC Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) offers toolkits to help congregations to develop a mental health program. UCCMHN is also presenting, a WISE Conference in partnership with the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC via Zoom Friday, Nov. 13- Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.  
The Faith and Mental Health Guide offers suggestions for congregations and clergy to be supportive of those struggling with mental illness including education, workshops, lectures to learn about mental illness and practical individual gestures such as prayers, notes, cards and meals during a crisis. Faith and spiritual practices also give a person who is struggling a sense of connection, meaning and purpose in life that can be helpful on the path to healing.
The Connecticut Suicide Prevention Plan 2020-2025 encourages faith-based organizations and clergy to participate in training on suicide prevention, and to create safe community settings to reduce stigma and increase awareness to prevent suicide.
Interfaith Network on Mental Illness: 10 Things Faith Community Leaders Can Do to Make The World a Better Place for People with Mental Illness
NAMI FaithNet 

More training is available:

Mental Health First Aid- Virtual Classes

QPR Online Gatekeeper Training 

Know the Warning Signs

Call 9-1-1 or seek immediate help from a mental health provider when you hear or see any one of these behaviors:
  • Someone threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Someone looking for ways to kill themselves: seeking access to pills, weapons, or other means
  • Someone talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
Seek help by contracting a mental health professional or calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-273-TALK for a referral should you witness, hear, or see anyone exhibiting any one or more of these behaviors:
  • Hopelessness
  • Rage, anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Feeling trapped—like there’s no way out
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life

The following is a list of national resources:

  • The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, text TalkWithUs to 66746
    • 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline  1-800-662 HELP (4357)
  • SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990
Pies RW. "Care of the Soul in the Time of COVID-19". Psychiatric Times. May 13, 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Previous Blog 4/17/2020
Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Resources


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Debbie Ringen

Debbie Ringen supports the Conference vision to make God’s love and justice real through wellness ministry at the Conference and local church level. In addition to providing resources, educational workshops, blogs and networking opportunities, she is...

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