Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

`A Place of Peace and Rest': Churches Are Helping Many with Mental Illness Find Medical, Psychological, and Spiritual Aid

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

`A Place of Peace and Rest': Churches Are Helping Many with Mental Illness Find Medical, Psychological, and Spiritual Aid

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES COUNTY is currently facing a potential meltdown of its entire health services network, both medical and psychiatric, as a $600 million deficit threatens to close down most inpatient hospital beds and numerous county clinics. For years, mental health care budgets have been among the first to be slashed, and part of the proposed solution to the current crisis asks county psychiatric services to cut spending by 20 percent or lose all funding.

But, as psychiatric social worker Marrie Swanson explains, the County Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are already down to bare bones services. "CMHCs aren't set up for therapy, but for medications," she says. "They won't see dysthymia or adjustment disorder [two forms of depression] as it is." This trend is troubling, given the significantly higher success rates of patients treated with talk therapy along with medications.

Private insurers also vary widely in which mental health services they will cover. Premiums and co-pays are increasing, and people who are already hesitant about pursuing mental health care may forego it entirely. As insurance rates are back on a double-digit rise this year, the number of people who have private insurance at all will inevitably decline, landing them in the broken public system. This situation is not unique to Los Angeles--the injustices of our health care system exist nationwide.

HOW ARE WE, as people of faith, to respond to this crisis? The Christian church has a long history of healing that lays the groundwork--in fact, "mental health care" is one way of describing what the church has been doing for hundreds of years, through pastoral care, the Catholic confessional, and even laying-on of hands. Dr. Ron Mumbower, director of counseling ministries at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, says, "Just look at our language! The Christian faith is full of what we need to help those with mental illness. You've already got `sanctuary,' a safe refuge, a place of peace and rest, where people can find renewal and healing." The counseling program at First Baptist is dynamic, with several full-time pastoral counselors and support groups and frequent seminars on topics ranging from grief to being "Single Again" to coping with a sick child. Even in smaller churches, pastoral counseling remains a vital element of the church's ministry, whether it's carried out by the pastor, staff member, or lay people.

But faith-based mental health care is expanding beyond traditional pastoral counseling. Opportunities have emerged for combining the best of today's medical knowledge with religion's heritage of hope and healing. For instance, many churches are developing health ministries in order to more concretely carry out Christ's command to "heal the sick." My own church, All Saints (Episcopal) Church in Pasadena, California, recently surveyed more than 400 of its members to assess which health care needs the church could address. The response was overwhelming, with mental health care topping the list of what people are desperately seeking. From broken pasts to broken relationships, from anxiety to depression, from unwanted pregnancies to sexuality issues, needs exist in the church as much as anywhere else. Our health ministry is planning a full program of education, information sharing, and a discussion series on theology and mental health, with the hopes of expanding this ministry in future years.

Yet another exciting model of faith-based mental health care is parish nursing. The QueensCare Health and Faith Ministry in downtown Los Angeles partners with more than 60 churches, schools, and faith-based nonprofit organizations to provide basic health care services. QueensCare is collaborating with UCLA Medical Center to investigate ways to meet the demand for mental health care. One possibility is incorporating medically proven mental health screening tools into parish nursing services. …

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