Connecting faith and mental health
“In our culture, mental health and faith have been separated,” said Sheila Stevens [MDiv, 1996], Director of Tyndale Counselling Services. “There is a huge interest in this issue. It couldn't be more relevant.” Sheila is especially excited about the growing interest in the psychiatric world towards faith and its health benefits. “A faith community that knows how to care for those with mental health issues is such a support,” she explained.
The Working Group for the Promotion of Mental Health in Faith Communities is organized by Sheila, Tyndale Seminary’s Dr. Victor Shepherd, Tyndale graduates Purple Yip [MDiv Counselling 2007] and Adrianne Sequeira [MDiv Counselling 2012], and two others. They are tasked with finding ways to connect faith and mental health. “One goal of the Working Group is to help deal with the stigma around mental health issues,” Sheila said. “We are so passionate about the work we do.”
As part of their work, they organized Equipping Faith Leaders to Respond to Mental Health Challenges, a conference sponsored by the APA Caucus on Spirituality, Religion, and Psychiatry. The event was part of the Inaugural American Psychiatric Association (APA) Conference on Mental Health for Faith Leaders, and took place on May 19, 2015, at Tyndale University College & Seminary. Numerous well-known, distinguished members of the psychiatric field spoke at the event, including Dr. Mary Lynn Dell, Dr. John R. Peteet, Dr. Nancy Kehoe, Dr. W. L. Alan Fung and Dr. Alexander Moreira-Almeida.
The all-day event focused on equipping local church leaders with how to provide care to those dealing with mental health issues. Sheila explained that many people with mental health issues are not treated with the same care as those with physical health problems. She used the typical “bringing of casserole” as an example: when someone in the church is ill or dealing with loss, others will bring casseroles as a sign of their care. Mental health, on the other hand, is more likely to be ignored.
The keynote speaker, Rev. Craig Rennebohm, offered advice on the steps a church can take to help those with mental health issues. He suggested churches set up committees to explore ways of supporting those with mental health issues. He encouraged church members to engage in companionship and come alongside one another to create a welcoming environment. It is invaluable for those struggling with these issues to have someone who cares and listens.
For more information about the Working Group for the Promotion of Mental Health in Faith Communities, visit their website.