The Role of Black Churches in Promoting Mental Health within Local Communities

Mental Health Normalization

Feggy Art, One and Other-Mental Health, April 6, 2021, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Introduction and Context

Black church pastors wield a lot of influence within the community and often bring about change. That would include notions about mental health. However, many African Americans continue to disregard mental health as a serious illness that poses profound consequences to society. My project research examines the need for the Black church to engage their communities about mental health to address illness and to promote wellness. Owing to their vast history of power and influence, African American churches seek to serve their communities beyond the church’s sanctuary.[1] Within the church health programs can be tailored to suit the needs of a particular population, allowing people to gain critical knowledge about mental health awareness.[2] It is estimated that about 46.6 million Americans, translating to one in five adults, experience mental health conditions and illness annually.[3] Despite the seriousness of the illness, there is a huge disparity in access to and usage of treatment facilities and medications among affected populations, especially minorities

In my ministry context I currently serve on my church’s health care ministry team. All health care ministry team members are required to be Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation certified by the American heart Association. Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation certification plays a vital role in the health care ministry teams’ mission on prevention and treatment of physical ailments within the congregation that may occur on any given Sunday. Over the past two years the world has experienced immense stressors that most in their lifetimes have never seen. One third of Americans are experiencing clinical levels of anxiety, depression, or both. Crisis text lines have shown a collective 40% increase in volume since the beginning of the pandemic according to The Mental Health Fund.[4] While not to diminish the importance of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation training within the church I feel that mental health awareness training should be deemed just as important. I believe the time is now for the Black church to focus on mental health awareness and recognition within the Black church as well as the communities they reside in. The current pandemic has prevented mental health professionals as well as mental health first aid responders from assisting those psychologically compromised.

Project and Research Process

It is my Doctor of Ministry Project goal to not only raise awareness, normalization, and recognition to mental health needs within the church and surrounding communities but urge churches to make mental health awareness training part of their mandatory curriculum for ministers in training, outreach ministry, and evangelism teams. Due to institutionalized racism in America, the Black church has been apprehensive to work with mental health institutions. The church is uniquely positioned to be pivotal partner within the African American community. This initiative must involve more than just prayer. History shows us that African Americans are more likely to rely on the elders of their churches and their own spiritual beliefs, rather than seek support from mental health professionals. The African American church leadership, membership and its communities should be assured that the church cares as well as assists in providing access to care if mental health care if needed. This training is no substitute for a licensed mental health professional but focused on understanding, identifying, and responding to mental health signs and symptoms until they can be addressed by a licensed professional. Those trained will be better equipped to assess for risk of suicide or harm, listening non-judgmentally, giving reassurance and information, encouraging appropriate professional help, and encouraging self-help and other support strategies until seen by licensed healthcare of mental health professional.[5] It’s my intent to challenge Black churches to understand and become more transparent towards psychological issues occurring just as common physical health issues.

Future Implications

The African American church can normalize mental health illness by conducting or sponsoring mental health seminars and workshops led by a licensed mental health professional aimed at delivering pertinent information while allowing active learning and participation from participants. The seminars should equip the participants with valuable information as well as decrease the stigma concerning mental health in Black churches. The intent is to progressively decrease the stigma as well as become a resource for those within the church and the communities they reside in. Next, the Pastor should reestablish the church as a place of healing as well as positively change the conversation concerning mental health conditions. Although biblical scripture does not concretely address mental health it does discuss the mind, soul, and emotions. I encourage Pastors to preach a series of messages surrounding anxiety and depression from the multiple biblical passages. The Pastor should stress that struggling with a mental health ailment does not make you any less of a Christian or unbeliever. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 264 million people struggle with depression and 40 million people struggle with anxiety.[6] The goal of the Pastors message series is to normalize mental health issues due to the influence and respect that Pastors have in Black churches as well as the communities they reside in. The message stressed to the congregation and community should reiterate that there is nothing abnormal about seeking out mental health counselors or therapists. Victor Armstrong in his article, “The Role of the Church in Improving Mental Wellness in the African American” is a proponent of using the term “wellness,” instead of illness.[7] By the Pastor adopting this language it should place the focus on prevention instead of deficiency and should reshape the narrative in conversations concerning mental health.

 

[1] Breland-Noble, A. M., Wong, M. J., Childers, T., Hankerson, S., & Sotomayor, J.

[2] Churches and religion in Black American life. (2021)

[3] Armstrong, V. The Role of the Church in Improving Mental Wellness in the African American Community. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 2021. https://afsp.org/story/the-role-of-the-church-in-improving-mental-wellness-in-the-african-american-commu/

[4]

[5] Robert S. Smith, “How Youth Mental Health First Aid Helps Our Community Grow Stronger,” September 3, 2020, mentalhealthfirstaid.org

[6] Vivian Bricker, “What does the Bible say about struggling with Mental Health,” Christianity.com

[7] Victor Armstrong, “The Role of the Church in Improving Mental Wellness in the African American Community,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Feb 2021: afsp.org

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