Building Bridges Between Communities of Faith and Mental Health
Participants gather information on how to treat mental health
Dr. Gloria Morrow
Over the past few months, Tommy and I have had the privilege of working with Heidi Bonadie, Executive Director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Pomona Valley (NAMI-PV), Dick Bunce, retired Executive Director of NAMI-PV and now consultant who is actively engaged in the Interfaith Collaborative on Mental Health (ICMH), and Krystal Hayes with Tri-City Mental Health Services, to develop strategies to engage underserved communities of faith in discussions on how to appropriately respond to their mental health needs. Under the capable leadership of Dick Bunce, I was given the charge of facilitating two well attended town hall meetings to foster a greater collaboration and partnership between diverse faith communities and mental health professionals and agencies with the purpose of helping them to develop additional strategies for responding appropriately to the mental health needs of people of faith.
Approximately 57.7 million Americans suffer from a mental illness in any given year, however, only one-third of those with a mental illness seek help. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that some people, especially in underserved communities, may be suffering in silence because of the stigma associated with mental illness. Further, some faith communities may not understand mental illness and may even serve as a barrier to people receiving professional help when necessary. “People with mental illness are among the most maligned, misunderstood, marginalized, and vulnerable in all the world,” states Dick Bunce. Therefore, the town hall meetings were an excellent opportunity to bring awareness and information to bring to light the need for people to not only become knowledgeable about mental illness, but to gain a greater level of compassion for those suffering with a mental illness and their families.
The highlight of each town hall meeting was the facilitation of a total of 19 discussion groups. According to Bunce: “Most of the discussion groups were vibrant. He stated: “People were eager for the chance to speak up on a difficult topic and to break through the silence, the avoidance, and the embarrassment, that too often surrounds mental illness.”
The purpose of the discussion groups were threefold: 1) To allow the faith community to inform us about their ongoing efforts towards responding appropriately to those suffering with mental illnesses in their communities of faith. 2) To give faith community members the opportunity to participate in the development of strategies for more effectively responding to the mental health needs of those suffering from mental illnesses and their families. 3) To conduct a needs assessment to determine how NAMI-PV and Tri-City Mental Health Services, and the Interfaith Collaboration on Mental Health can best partner with the faith community to assist in their efforts of responding to the needs of their various communities. Based on the evaluations, the purpose was realized at the two events.
“The highlight I will always remember is that at one of the town hall meetings, when time was up for the discussion groups and people were invited to lunch, many went and got their lunch and went right back into intense discussion. The field is white unto harvest,” stated Bunce. He further stated, “the planning team put the emphasis not on telling but on listening-listening, that is, on the part of those of us whoa re active in the mental health field. We learned a lot and have our work cut out for us as we continue to listen and enter into dialogue. Ultimately, we want people with a diagnosis and their families to find the kind of support they want and need, and we believe faith communities – churches, temples, mosques, etc. – have an indispensable role in making this happen. There are no easy answers to how this will happen, but the answers are out there in the minds and hearts of the very caring people we met through the town meetings.”
On July 19, I was given the opportunity to provide a summary of the discussion group data to a diverse group that was representative of the clients, interfaith community, mental health professionals and agencies, and community leaders. Dick Bunce summarized the two events as follows: “People are eager to learn more about mental illness-causes, treatments, recovery strategies, and community resources. They are also wanting to see faith communities as part of the action in providing welcome, support, and referral to people with mental illness and their families.” He further promises that “additional events will happen in which the planning is done on a highly representaive basis. Prior to this, much one-on-one interaction will happen, enabled in part by the response forms filled out by participants in the town hall meetings.
All in all, the town hall meetings sponsored by the Interfaith Collaboration on Mental Illness (ICMH), NAMI-PV, and Tri-City Mental Health Services provided a rich opportunity for bridges to be built between the communities of faith and mental health, and in the process, I believe some walls are in the process of being torn down.
For a complete summary of the discussion groups, please contact NAMI-PV at (909) 625.2383.