Mental Health Ministries

Models of Ministry – What Congregations are Doing

Church Council - Tucson, Arizona


Church Council, TucsonI heard Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder speak at the Interfaith Community Services conference four years ago in Tucson and was greatly moved.  I bought the Mental Health Ministries DVD, Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.  I asked our Church Council to approve a mental health ministry at our church which they did about three years ago. I initiated the first discussion using parts of Mental Illness and Families of Faith DVD.

Currently our mental health ministry group meets once a month, and all our members either have mental illness or a loved one with a mental illness.  Our group focuses on three goals: education about mental illness, removing the stigma and advocating for more funding/resources for treatment. We have wonderful discussions and keep initiating classes and exploring contacts with other churches in the community.  It is a rewarding experience for all of us and using the resources from Mental Health Ministries has helped us become a vital ministry today as reflected in the most recent report we made to our Church Council.

Mental Health Ministry Report to Church Council - May 17

Mental Health Ministry focuses on three areas: education about mental illness, removing the stigma around it and advocating for more and better treatment.

Education

MHM has held classes on the kinds of mental illness and necessary treatments, three full day trainings in Mental Health First Aid, and hosted a Tucson Police Department discussion of their Crisis Intervention Trained officers. We held a class on The Church as a Welcoming Place for Those with Mental Illness and Their Loved Ones, and classes on depression, stress and preventing suicide. Most recently, our committee facilitated the Sunday Night at the Movies discussion on A Beautiful Mind about a mathematics genius with schizophrenia.

Removing the Stigma

The month of May is Mental Health Month, and MHM has provided a flier that describes the effects of stigma and has green ribbons attached. We encourage people to wear the ribbons that symbolize hope for removing the stigma and to describe why that is important if someone asks about it. Also all of our MHM classes address the issue of stigma since it is often at the root of why nearly 80% of all people with mental illness do not get or seek treatment. Stigma can be both internal (within the individual and loved ones who don’t want to recognize or talk about mental illness or be labeled) and external (negative public and institutional attitudes toward mental illness). The source of stigma is ignorance about mental illness and erroneous assumptions about it. Therefore, education is necessary to remove the stigma.

Advocacy

MHM members contact their state and federal legislators when bills are submitted that impact mental health funding and treatment. Recently we have been concerned with the proposed replacement of the Affordable Care Act. The replacement reduces funding for treatment of people with mental illness and those with substance abuse problems. Also Arizona, in the last few years, has cut funding by 35% for mental health treatment. We are encouraged, however, by the leadership that law enforcement, judges and behavorial health in Pima County are taking to reduce the numbers of mentally ill in jails and to provide treatment instead.

Plans for the Next Year

Plans for next year include classes in identifying mental health conditions in children and youth, the contributions those with mental illness make to the community, support for those surviving after a death by suicide of a loved one, Crisis Intervention Team officers from Pima County Sheriffs office to talk about how to defuse a mental health crisis, and examples of county efforts to decriminalize mental illness and substance abuse. Mental Health Ministry was included in a recent conference on the decriminalization issues and will continue to be planning future classes with law enforcement and behavorial health.

We also regularly write articles for the St. Francis Newsletter to keep the congregation updated on important mental health issues. Please read the articles!

Our committee is one which is committed to making significant changes and to increasing our contacts in the community. We work with the mental health section of Interfaith Community Services, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona, and several other churches which are also addressing this issue. We know that people often turn first to their churches when the darkness of mental illness descends, and we want to be one of those that can bring in some light and hope.

Diane Wilson, Chair
Mental Health Ministry, St. Francis in the Foothills UMC
May 23, 2017