This article was written by and from the perspective of Josephine Gurch, with the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
This past summer, we checked in with God’s Way Christian Baptist Church of Taylor, Texas, one of 11 faith-based organizations to receive funding from the Hogg Foundation’s African American Faith-Based Education and Awareness Initiative (Faith-Based Initiative) grant, to learn about their Wellness and Empowerment Community Ministries.
Stigma in Faith Circles
For many—especially those without access to mental health services—faith circles are places of refuge, with pastors and clergy tending to the emotional needs of their congregants as much as their spiritual ones. Long-held stigma, however, often keeps conversations about mental health conditions behind closed doors, leading to shame and misunderstanding.
That’s why it’s so important, Dr. Rowe tells us, that we equip pastors “with the information they need to serve their congregations and communities.” Faith leaders, no matter the size of their following, are influencers; and when they preach mental health lessons from the pulpit, people listen.
Inclusion through Dialogue
The appeal of mental health education, Dr. Rowe finds, grows when dialogues use inclusive language. “Being aware of how you title programs,” she says, “how inclusive you are, as opposed to pointing to a specific population, helps you draw people to the information you’re trying to provide for them.”
By honoring individual experience and testimony, inclusive mental health dialogues make room for difference—giving participants the words and space they need to express their vulnerabilities without shame. “Our congregation has actually gotten closer,” Dr. Young says, speaking about the impact of the grant on his church. “We’ve been offering several sessions, and each session the attendance grows.”
Read more and listen to the podcast on Hogg.UTexas.edu.