Think back to who was at church with you on Sunday. Chances are, there were people in your congregation who were dealing with a mental health problem. Research shows that in an average week, 1 in 6 people experience a common mental health problem. This figure is likely to be even higher in the coming year, given the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.
You’ll likely already be keenly aware of the scale of the mental health crisis - on your church community, on young people, on those who are already vulnerable due to poverty, ill health, or unstable relationships. You’re likely to have friends and family who have experienced poor mental health and you may even have experienced this yourself.
We’ve been hearing for years how NHS provision is significantly over-stretched, particularly in mental health support. Waiting lists for assessments and therapeutic support are at an all-time high and many people who do not have the means to access private therapy are without this vital care.
So, if the mental health crisis in the UK is so big, what can the church do? Should churches be supporting good mental health? Can we effectively support and complement NHS provision?
As the ChurchWorks Commission - a group convened at the height of the pandemic to support churches to respond collectively to the needs of our local communities - we passionately believe that there is both a theological imperative and so much potential for churches and church leaders to take a more active role in supporting people struggling with mental health problems.
We’re excited by a world in which the local church is a space where those with common mental health challenges are heard and supported, where quality teaching and equipping takes place to enable people to increase their mental resilience, and where those who are lonely and in need of connection are welcomed and loved.
As with so much of the church’s ministry, this kind of deeply effective work has been happening across the country for centuries. Over 61,000 churches in England already deliver tens of thousands of community projects. If even just a small number of these projects were redirected towards supporting good mental health in our churches and wider communities, the impact would be huge. We not only want to celebrate what is already happening, but explore how we can learn from each other to engage in mental health support across the nation.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus encourages us to extend hospitality, generosity, and love to anyone in need in, and beyond, our community. As Christians today, we want to be equipped to extend that love in a way that is effective, safe and sustainable.
We believe that churches are brilliantly placed to offer support with our strong community links, our heart to love, physical space and resources and connections to communities that are less reached by state provision.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has spoken about his own experiences of mental ill-health, wrote in the foreword to The Bible and Mental Health: Towards a Biblical Theology of Mental Health,
“Christians and churches can work alongside mental health professionals to support those with mental health issues appropriately and lovingly, as well as nurture hospitable communities where all are welcome and where speaking of mental health is a normal part of life together.”
Of course, this kind of scaling requires education and equipping work to respond in an appropriate and safe way. That is why all of the denominations represented in the ChurchWorks Commission want to offer more proactive and joined-up action on mental health and well-being and, in partnership with Waverley Abbey Contemporary Chaplaincy, are convening the ChurchWorks for Wellbeing Conference on Thursday 18th May.
If you are,
then we want to invite you to join us in London on 18th May for a day that will explore practical ways in which the church can respond to the mental health crisis. We’ll be joined by experts who will unpack how you can do this, including representatives from:
There will be time for you to try out these opportunities so you can experience what you could offer to your community and connect with others on a similar journey.
A church equipped to promote and support good mental health can have a profoundly transformative impact on our communities and our country. Join us at the ChurchWorks for Wellbeing Conference on Thursday 18th May to find out how you can play your part.
About the author: Jack Palmer-White is the Project Director for ChurchWorks Commission. The ChurchWorks Commission brings together 15 major UK Christian denominations to unite and promote action on urgent social issues in our local communities, with a particular focus on supporting the most vulnerable. The ChurchWorks Commission helps churches and Christian organisations to collaborate with each other and the Government to catalyse partnership working around their key priorities: wellbeing and mental health, vulnerable children and families and the cost of living.