Mental Health Awareness and the Church
By Joi Thomas | Afro | word in black
(WIB) – Over the past two years, we have all lived through the uncertainty of a global pandemic. We have done our best to stay healthykeeping our family and loved ones safe and creating a new normal.
The church has had to rethink the way it operates and cares for its congregation and those in need during this time. Many churches have seen members pass away in those two years and have not been able to mourn them collectively.
Now that many church doors are open, services are still socially distanced and the fellowship that was once available cannot now take place. All of these factors and many more contribute to our mental health. It is important for the church to focus on the mental health of its leaders and members to ensure that each is processing our collective trauma.
Carla Debnam, LCPC, Executive Director of Renaissance Centerhas seen an increase in the need for mental health awareness in the church.
“Fear and anxiety have increased, along with loneliness and isolation, due to the initial shutdown and failure to control the spread of Covid,” she said. “Since then, people have coped in different ways, sometimes with addictions, anger and risky behaviors.”
“Therapy and Jesus” is a popular term used to promote mental health in the church. Debnam agrees that the church should promote the mental health of its members.
“Therapy is important because it can help people cope with change, get through a crisis like divorce, the loss of a loved one and of course helps if you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder,” said said Debnam. “It is important that our churches join with those struggling and normalizing help-seeking as we do for other health issues like diabetes, obesity, cancer or heart disease. This is especially important because many people go to church first when they have these difficulties.
Reverend Brent Brown, senior pastor of Greater Harvest Baptist Church, also saw a growing need for mental health awareness.
“I noticed a mental health problem in some members. Often elderly people who live alone don’t get hugs until they come to church on Sunday or Wednesday and
] felt very alone,” Brown said. “While phone calls and recordings are helpful, they are no substitute for one-to-one interaction. Some of our young people were experiencing anxiety and the pressure of a different type of social interaction.
“There are a number of members who are still as scared in March 2022 as they were in March 2020.”
Often people have problems and those around them do not recognize the signs.
Debnam says that depending on the disorder, there are various signs that a person may have a mental health issue.
“They may include sleeping too little or too much, loss of appetite or overeating, mood swings, irritability, excessive worry, loss of interest in normal activities, trouble thinking, unexplained physical problems like headaches , back pain or heart palpitations, avoidance of social contact,” Debnam said. “If you notice that you are not yourself, make an appointment with your primary care provider for further advice.”
Although pastors are used to providing support and making sure the needs of church members are met, their role has become all the more important during the pandemic.
Asked about the importance of pastoral mental health, Debnam said, “As leaders, pastors have a lot of responsibility in preparing sermons, visiting the sick, teaching, overseeing the running of the church and caring for their congregation”.
“It comes with a lot of stress and can get overwhelming. They also have to take care of their families. It prevents them from resting and relaxing,” Debnam said. “Self-care is important to them, and it’s important to have real friendships with other people who understand their journey.”
Pastor Brown has found a new hobby during Covid to help him maintain his sanity.
“During the pandemic, I chose a hobby that I’ve wanted to learn for a while now, golf,” he said. “In May 2020 I took my first golf lesson and fell in love with the game of golf. It was and continues to be a great outlet and stress reliever.
Going forward, the church can continue to be a beacon of hope for all in need and include mental health resources.
“The church can help by providing a place where people can safely gather since isolation and loneliness have increased during the pandemic, also organizing mental health information sessions and groups of support as well as community events,” Debnam said. “Church attendance and spiritual development are essential to psychological strength, and this will help in the reopening of churches.”
At Greater Harvest Baptist Church, Pastor Brown promotes mental health with his membership.
“There is a mental health and counseling center less than five minutes from Greater Harvest that we like to encourage our congregation and community to seek help, Transformation Health 312 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Suite 300 The second place we encourage our congregation to receive help is the Renaissance Center at 6665 Security Blvd.