Mental Health Ministries

MHM e-Spotlight - January 2010



I have written a four session resource/study guide for clergy and communities of faith in response to the many questions and requests for information that I receive from persons who want to include spirituality as an important part of the treatment and recovery process.

Surveys show that over forty percent of Americans seeking help with mental health issues turn first to ministers, priests and rabbis. This is twice as many as those who went first to a psychiatrist, psychologist or family physician. Unfortunately, the response of clergy and congregations falls significantly short of what parishioners expect of their faith leaders. Individuals struggling with mental illness are significantly less likely to receive the same level of pastoral care as persons in the hospital with physical illnesses, persons who are dying or those who have long-term illnesses. Mental illness has been called the “no casserole disease.”

This resource is designed to be used with clergy, members of congregations, family members and anyone desiring to learn more about mental illness and how to respond with compassion and care. It can be used as a small group study or leaders can adapt it to use in an extended class or seminar. Faith leaders can use this guide to quickly find information on a specific topic when the need arrives.

The four sections included in this resource/study guide include:

Understanding Mental Illness
The Unique Role of Faith Communities
Creating Caring Congregations
Help for Faith Leaders.
This is a FREE resource that can be downloaded on the Mental Health Ministries website as a PDF document. Click here to download this new resource.


The Resources/Links section of the website has been reorganized to make it easier for you to find the downloadable resources you need. The sub-sections include the new 4 Session Study Guide, Worship Resources, Bulletin Inserts, Brochures, Handouts/Flyers, Articles and Links.

Each faith community is unique. Mental Health Ministries resources are designed to be “hands-on” resources that can be adapted to the makeup and needs of each congregation.


For thousands of years, in many civilizations from the Sumerians to the Romans, people have wanted to start off the New Year on the right foot. Symbolically speaking, January 1st is a powerful time to ask important questions about one's life and resolve to make changes that will improve our overall well being. 40 to 45% of American adult make one or more resolutions each year. Among the top New Year’s resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and stopping to smoke. While these good intentions help us to focus on those aspects of our lives where we would like to make changes, most resolutions are not realistic and do not last.

The national health care debate has raised awareness of important issues like access to good health care for all, providing care for persons with preexisting conditions, and a renewed interest in preventative medicine and early diagnoses for both physical and emotional illnesses. Many of us, especially those in the helping professions, put the needs of others before our own care and find it difficult to set healthy boundaries. We often neglect all the things we know are good for us like caring for our physical bodies, taking Sabbath time to renew our spirits, spending time with our family and friends, being intellectually stimulated as part of life-long learning and growth, and being aware of our emotional needs and responses.

One of the occupational outcomes of our actions is due to what Charles Figley has called “compassion fatigue.” We are there for others in times of crisis while often neglecting our own needs. Part of being in recovery from my illness is finding a healthy balance in my life. I pay the price when I over schedule and try to do too much.

I heard about a minister who loved to fish but never found the time. He bought a boat and named it “Visitation.” When someone called the church asking for the pastor, the secretary could honestly respond, “He is on Visitation.”


In a 2001 Duke Divinity School study, 76% of clergy were found to be overweight or obese. 10% were clinically depressed, 40% depressed some of the time or worn out most of the time. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, mental health problems, including chemical dependency, are the leading cause of disability in their health plan, accounting for 1/3 of the 300 rostered ministers on disability. In a 2007 Focus on the Family article, a Barna Group study stated that the average pastor lasts only 5 yrs. at a church; churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks. Pastors are among the most over-worked and under-appreciated group of professionals. A rising divorce rate among clergy indicates ministry’s high-risk nature and its impact on clergy families.

As mental health congregational resource consultant for the Alban Institute, Carole Wills served with their Clergy Wellness Task Force during 2008. The focus of the following podcast interview is clergy mental health – an important concern for clergy, lay leaders and members of congregations.


Guidelines for ClergyRev. Rose Anne Briotte, a psychiatric chaplain in Knoxville, TN, and a member of the Mental Health Ministries Advisory Committee, has put together a brochure on Guidelines for Clergy: Providing Pastoral Care to Persons with Mental Illness and Their Family. It is available on the Mental Health Ministries website by clicking the link above.

An article in The Christianity Century talks about the high incidence of clergy depression in clergy that can lead to suicide.


Presentations from the national summit, Companions on the Road to Recovery from Mental Illness: Pathways for the 21st Century, held in October of 2009 in St. Louis, MO., are now available on-line as free downloads. The conference agenda is posted on with embedded links to some 20 of the presentations from the conference.


In this New Year, I hear about congregations and community groups developing innovative and creative ministries. We would like to include what you are doing in the “Your Ideas” section of the website. You are invited to send a paragraph describing your ministry to Susan at


Crystal BallMost of us live very hectic, busy lives. We often use the expression, "I'm juggling too many balls," or "I can't keep all the balls in the air." As we enter this New Year, I invite you to imagine that the most important parts of your life are beautiful, fragile crystal balls. Naming the crystal balls will be different for each of us. For many of us our crystal balls will include such things as our faith, our family and friends, and those things that give meaning to our lives…and our health! Now imagine that all the other balls we struggle to keep in the air are rubber balls. As we juggle all these balls, it is all right if the rubber balls drop now and then. They will bounce back. But if we drop one of the precious crystal balls, it will shatter forever.

As we enter this second decade of this century, we welcome the New Year with a spirit of hope, recovery and anticipation of what we can all achieve together – a life in the community for everyone.


Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119