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Multicultural Outreach through Training Ministries

By Yolanda H. Ortega, faith-based mental health initiative coordinator

As faith communities expand their efforts to embrace the needs of families and individuals with mental illness, lives and communities will improve. The cry for good services will grow louder. Families and individuals everywhere will feel welcome, supported and loved. They will have better access to relief in crises.

I lead the Faith-based Mental Health Initiative, an independent program, which NAMI San Antonio helped create and still supports. Since 2006, the Initiative has helped congregations start mental health ministries. We mentor faith leaders and assist them with starting ministries at their own places of worship.

From a multicultural standpoint, we have worked primarily with Hispanics and African Americans. Our efforts have engaged Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical, Non- Denominational and Presbyterian faith communities.

By the numbers

  • Of 18 mental health ministry efforts started or in the works, lay leaders include nine Hispanics and three African Americans.
  • Four support groups are predominantly multicultural and three groups are bilingual.
  • Among active clergy, one is African American and three are Hispanic.
  • One pastor ministers to a diverse group of offenders on probation.

Sylvia Luna, my assistant and a licensed substance abuse counselor for the homeless, plans a multi-faith conference of mostly Hispanic and African American people from small Evangelical churches. She recently trained a small group of African American pastors in Selma, Alabama on self-awareness of stigma toward those with mental illness. The pastors in turn plan to offer workshops themselves and have already done so in Selma and Montgomery.

Basic Strategies

  • We offer a non-faith specific training for clergy and laity, typically lasting four to six hours for large groups, or two to three hours for staff of a faith community.
  • We assist people who want to create more caring congretations. For two years, we recruited ministry leaders on a church-by-church; now people contact us.
  • We use Pathways to Understanding: A Manual on Ministry and Mental Illness, which is sold online at, for talks by clergy on "meshing faith and mental health."
  • We first work to get the leader of each congregation to "buy into" a ministry. Buy-in includes providing space for meetings and access to promotion opportunities available to other ministries.

Each ministry is "of and by the church." Infusing spirituality is up to individual ministry leaders and clergy. NAMI San Antonio provides the Pathways to Understanding manual for clergy and laity, access to NAMI classes and office resources and facilities for non-faith specific trainings.

The Initiative mentors each leader in how to: develop a ministry, facilitate a support group and help families and consumers plug into mental health treatment and community services.

For more information about the San Antonia Faith-based Mental Health Initiative, contact

NAMI FaithNet

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