Faith-Based Healing? Mental Health Advocates Say Yes

A local mental health advocacy group is encouraging faith-based organizations to cultivate their relationships with families who are touched with mental illness. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, faith leaders are often the first to know about struggles with mental illness.

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For Stephen Findley, the link between a church family and his own family's struggles with mental illness is real.

"I have a brother who has a mood disorder of depression and when we brought him back home, I think the church that my family was a part of, no one knew, even the church didn't know what to do. We kind of thought, well, let's bring him home and let's wait for him to snap out of it."

Findley is a chaplain with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a National Alliance on Mental Illness volunteer. He says Houston's faith-based community has the opportunity to both help families cope with mental illness and facilitate treatment for people who don't know where to turn.

"Many times the religious community, the pastor, the imam, the rabbi, they may be the first point of contact for someone to come and say I have this issue going on in my family. If more religious leaders knew enough how to make referrals to the appropriate mental health associations and organizations, that would go a long way to people that are a lot of times invisible basically."

Carolyn Hamilton is the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Metropolitan Houston and has an adult son who suffers from mental illness. She says it's crucial that spiritual leaders learn how to accept and nurture families and victims of mental illness.

"You turn to your church and sometimes you're lucky enough to have someone that understands, that's compassionate, that is understanding, that listens and other times you don't get that help. Many times families and persons with mental illness leave the church because they feel unwanted."

At Houston's SHAPE Community Center in the Third Ward, Director Deloyd Parker has been dealing with clients with mental illness for most of the 38 years he's been there. He says there's a definite role for both faith-based and community-based organizations in helping families deal with mental illness.

"Faith-based communities and the community centers are the institutions that seemingly have the compassion and the desire to want to help and if that compassion, that desire, that caring is there, you'll find a way. When the desire is there you're going to come up with ways and means and programs and activities that help address the issue."

You can find out more about efforts to educate the faith-based community on mental health issues through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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