Mental Health Access pack

The Mental Health Access Pack

Jim McManus, a health professional who has a passion about good Christian mental health, enthuses about the new Mental Health Access Pack, produced by Livability in conjunction with Premier's Mind & Soul.

If you are a pastor or minister, church welcomer, volunteer or befriender, I challenge you to do yourself a favour: make Livability's Mental Health Access Pack top of your reading list for 2015 and use it to train your ministry team. You will be glad you did.

Why? Look around your congregation and the people in your streets. If that doesn't tell you why, then what about this: A plethora of research studies show that people with mental health challenges are attracted to faith communities, for a whole host of reasons that Shams1 et al explored in 1993 and many other since. Lewis et al (2011) suggested that there are issues faith communities need to be aware of and deal with2. Duncan Selbie, the Chief Executive of Public Health England, said that 'Faith-based activity is of huge significance to people and their health and wellbeing and to be celebrated.'

And if that's not enough, do you believe you are part of the Mission Jesus spoke of in John 10:10 "I have come that all may have life, and have it in its fullness"?  So, sisters and brothers, if we believe theologically we are called to serve humanity, mental health is something we must take seriously. Because it's part and parcel of the humanity we are called to love and serve.

And taking it seriously means we must play our part in holding and supporting people, and recognize that if we do that properly it can help people cope, working alongside professional qualified NHS and other services, and sometimes ensuring people won't need to access them.

Let's be honest, in most churches our response to mental health could be a lot better. There have been lots of initiatives, resources, books and tools. I've even helped write some of them and then watched as they gather dust. Mental health – especially at population level – is a real interest of mine both in my day job and in my church life. From a public health perspective, good resilience to life's challenges and good mental health are a crucial task in reducing the avoidable burden of misery which reduces our quality of life.

But there is a gap in the resources available. This new tool from Livability & Premier's Mind & Soul, the Mental Health Access Pack, fills a gap which I have seen across many Christian traditions.

And I am delighted to endorse it, and even more delighted that this pack blends sound pastoral care advice with good practical tools, a strong realisation of the role of professionals and a positive theological vision.

I am tempted to, but won't bang on about how rubbish some of our theology of mental health has been in places. Too often, we start from 'abnormal psychology' rather than presenting the opportunity to be resilient against life's challenges: This is a theology which is neither true to the Bible nor true to the Christian tradition; nor is it consistent with the mounting evidence about the nature of mental health, resilience and ill-health. (If you want to really think about theology and health, read Neil Messer's book Flourishing)

So these are the biggest reasons why I endorse this pack. I can't imagine any Christian tradition in which this pack could not be useful. But there are more reasons I am endorsing and encouraging the use of this pack:

  1. It's needed – I think what I have said above demonstrates this.
  2. It's sensible – it talks of what churches can do and should not do. It talks about when you need to refer to professionals. It also gives wise advice, for example on psychosis, about when churches should definitely not seek to manage things on their own.
  3. It articulates a role for faith communities which is sensible in public mental health terms and theologically coherent. This is important because faith communities need to understand theologically, not just practically, their response to an issue.
  4. It recognises the organic, genetic and social aspects of mental health, and doesn't fall into the dodgy and defeatist theology of Powers and Principalities being at work every time someone develops a mental health problem. It avoids the worrying 'pray away your mental health issues' attitude found in some churches, while also recognising spiritual practices can be and are very supportive in helping people cope and be resilient.
  5. It can be used to help develop faith communities which are able to welcome and hold people with mental health challenges, while recognising their boundaries of competence and the importance of referring to medical services where appropriate.
  6. It is written to be usable and useful, practical and helpful, and make you think.
  7. It articulates all this within the Christian ministry of hospitality to all and the riches of the Church's tradition on pastoral care. It advocates churches having a policy on pastoral care! Excellent.
  8. It is a good blending of theology and science aimed at creating authentic Christian practice. It could easily be adapted for specific denominations within the Christian worldview and faith communities of other worldviews

We all need to realise that the best of science and medicine, coupled with the best of pastoral and social support, can and must work together. This pack will help you do that.

This is the pack I would have loved to write. It's the pack I will be promoting.

Jim McManus is Director of Public Health for Hertfordshire, a Chartered Psychologist and has a strong interest in population mental health. He is Co-Chair of the British Psychological Society's working group on psychology in public health, Vice-Chair of the Health and Social Care Reference Group for the Catholic Church in England and Wales and a Research Fellow in Pastoral Theology at Heythrop College, University of London. He is a member of Faith Action's advisory council.

January 2015