May is known for many observances, but it is also known for Mental Health Awareness Month. In our churches, we often feed the souls of our congregants and visitors, which includes speaking to the whole person: mind, body, and spirit, and this month can reach all of these.
A Huffington Post article from August 2015 lists some eye-opening statistics on mental illness:
- Half of all adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
- Half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.
- One in five children will have a mental illness by age 18.
- Ninety percent of people who die by suicide also had mental illness.
The Commission on Disability Concerns of the Baltimore-Washington Conference recommends that we take the time to raise awareness about mental health. There's no doubt that some in your congregation are or have experienced mental health issues. Part of raising awareness is by acknowledging the struggles folks may be going through (read some of the Psalms written by King David). Also, talking about mental health helps to remove some of the stigma associated with mental illness. In addition, it helps show that they are not alone and others are going through their own struggles too. Speaking about mental health usually comes from a vulnerable place and it takes some risk to even share our personal struggles; however, it is healing in that it helps to reduce or remove any shame associated with it, while lifting up this important subject.
Some ways to observe Mental Health Awareness Month include:
- Having special prayers. (Here are some resources.)
- Include some bulletin inserts. (Here are some resources.)
- Preach one Sunday on one of King David's Psalms or about Jesus' grief when Lazarus died. The point is to normalize mental health, validate what people go through, and see God's love and grace during our struggles.
- Invite a speaker to share during coffee hour. Topics include: addiction recovery, depression and/or anxiety, dementia, and grief. The speaker can be an expert or give a testimony. Take up a special offering and donate it to a mental health type ministry or charity.
- Post mental health-related information on the church bulletin board; include suicide prevention information.
- If you have a resource table, include educational pamphlets or brochures on depression, grief, anxiety, dementia, addiction, suicide prevention, community resources, and so on. (Here are some resources.)
- Post or link an article or two about mental health on the church website.(Here are some resources.) Or link to the UM Committee on Disability Ministries and Mental Health Ministries.
- Show a movie on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, such as Silver Linings Playbook.
- Read an article about mental health at a youth group gathering, UMW meeting, and/or at an adult Sunday School class. Mention it to parents before reading an article at a youth group. (Here are some resources.)
- Pray about starting a mental health ministry. (Here is a resource to get you started.)
For more ideas, go to www.mentalhealthministries.net.
As a person who has struggled with anxiety off and on during my life, I know firsthand the importance of maintaining my mental health. Often, we do not want others to know, but it's important we know we are loved, have a place we belong, and are not judged (or criticized) for our struggles. Isolation is often what occurs and we have an opportunity this month to break this trend.
This month, take a Sunday and observe Mental Health Awareness Month. You'll make a difference in someone's or some family's life.
Gregg-Schroeder, S. (2017). Mental Health Ministries. Retrieved from www.mentalhealthministries.net.
Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is a provisional deacon serving in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He is also a licensed clinical professional counselor in the state of Maryland.