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NAMI FaithNet Newsletter: September 2011

In This Issue:

  • Mental Illness Invisible in Many Churches
  • Introducing Bridges of Hope

Mental Illness Invisible in Many Churches

By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications

Many families and individuals affected by mental illness acknowledge faith as a key component in their recovery and experience. However, a recent study sponsored by Baylor University reveals that mental illness within a family frequently damages the family's connection to its church.

Although the church congregation did not completely remove support from the families, the study found that families affected by mental illness ranked church as number two in their priority list of needs, while families without mental illness ranked it 42.

The study highlights that church communities do not fulfill the needs of congregants and often overlook families affected by mental illness, despite the needs the families have for support and assistance.

"The data give the impression that mental illness, while prevalent within a congregation, is also nearly invisible," said Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., co-author of the study.

The study appears in the online journal Mental Health, Religion and Culture, and is the first study to look at how mental illness of a family member influences an individual's relationship with their congregation.

In recent years, NAMI surveys of families and individuals living with both schizophrenia and depression reinforce the view that faith is an important component of people’s experience and recovery with mental illness.

Many NAMI members recognized the importance of a caring congregation for families and individuals and, in response, formed NAMI FaithNet for the purpose of encouraging more supportive faith communities for those with mental illness and their families. Pointing out the value of one’s spirituality in the recovery process as well as the need for spiritual strength for many caregivers, NAMI grassroots leaders have been working to educate clergy and faith communities about mental illness through outreach and education efforts in concert with NAMI Affiliates throughout the country.

Clearly, there remains a large need for this effort. While the low ranking of mental illness as a priority need for congregants not directly affected by mental illness may indicate that they simply are not aware of the unique needs of all families, this may also suggest that the help is not forthcoming when it is needed.

While the study may not highlight a fundamental problem with the church community itself, it may indicate a lack of understanding, or perhaps even shame, about mental illness.

The study surveyed 6,000 participants in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations, so it is unclear whether or not the results would change with a more diverse demographic.

NAMI FaithNet respects all faith beliefs. It also recognizes the expression by the majority of those affected by mental illness of the importance of the role of their spirituality in their ability to cope with having one of these illnesses themselves or in caring for an ill friend or family member.

Introducing Bridges of Hope

By Carole Wills, Chair, NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group

For NAMI members and leaders who feel ready and eager to speak to faith communities, a second PowerPoint presentation, Bridges of Hope, is now available on the NAMI FaithNet website. The first PowerPoint presentation introduced at NAMI Convention in June 2011, Reaching Out to Faith Communities, is a self-study training tool for those who desire more background and preparation before reaching out to religious communities.

Bridges of Hope uses appropriate topics from Reaching Out to Faith Communities and adapts them to people of faith in congregations. The three topics are: What is mental illness and what is its impact?; What role can faith communities play in supporting and caring for people with mental illness?; and Who is NAMI and what does it offer faith communities? Length of the presentation depends on the speaker’s pace and amount of discussion encouraged. It can be used in its entirety or in sections, depending on the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter and time allotment. The main sections include:

  • Introduction - Why do we need Bridges of Hope? Bridges for whom? To what?
  • Section I - What is mental illness? How does it impact individuals, families, and communities?
  • Section II - What is the role of the faith community in helping people and families touched by serious mental illness?
  • Section III - Who is NAMI and what does it offer to individuals, families and faith communities?
  • Closing - Building your Bridge of Hope

How does Bridges of Hope differ from Reaching Out to Faith Communities?

Bridges of Hope is a presentation that NAMI members can take directly into faith groups. Reaching Out to Faith Communities is a study guide for individuals or groups who want more training before speaking to faith groups. The Reaching Out materials are relevant to building relationships with faith communities and are fundamental to understanding questions such as "Why should our affiliate reach out to faith communities?”; "How do we handle differing views about mental illness or stigmatizing remarks?”; and "How do I get started?” Reaching Out to Faith Communities is available also as a PDF file, along with other resources designed to support a NAMI Affiliate faith outreach initiative.

The goal of both Bridges of Hope and Reaching Out to Faith Communities is to equip and empower NAMI members and staff to become catalysts for change in faith groups, to educate them about mental illness and to share the NAMI story and resources with congregations. Developed by members of the NAMI FaithNet Advisory Group, these members trust Bridges of Hope and Reaching Out to Faith Communities will give NAMI leaders more confidence and practical tools for becoming a stronger advocate and educator within their local congregations.

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