Faith and community leaders are often the first point of contact when individuals and families face mental health problems or traumatic events. In fact, in times of crisis, many will turn to trusted leaders in their communities before they turn to mental health professionals. When leaders know how to respond, they become significant assets to the overall health system.
Faith and community leaders can help educate individuals and families about mental health, increasing awareness of mental health issues and making it easier for people to seek help. Community connectedness and support, like that found in faith-based and other neighborhood organizations, are also important to the long-term recovery of people living with mental illnesses.
Faith communities are also in a unique position to reach many of the millions of Americans who struggle with serious thoughts of suicide each year. Many people having thoughts of suicide feel hopeless, trapped, or are in such emotional pain or despair, that they struggle to face another day. Suicidal thoughts are often accompanied by a spiritual crisis or deep questioning about the purpose of life. If faith leaders are better able to recognize the signs of suicide and learn how to respond, they can serve as an expanded safety net for those most in need.
Educate your communities and congregations. Promote awareness by educating the members of your communities and congregations about mental health issues through educational forums and other opportunities.
Identify opportunities to support people with mental illnesses. Religious and other community organizations can play an important role in supporting individuals living with mental illnesses and encouraging them to seek help.
Connect individuals and families to help. Strengthen the connections within your community to mental health services and support and enhance linkages between mental health, substance abuse, disability, and other social services.
Promote acceptance of those with mental health issues. The voices of leaders and members of faith-based and other community organizations can greatly influence attitudes about mental health conditions and those who experience them.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20201