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Often, individuals with mental illnesses or substance use disorders will seek support and solace from faith leaders, making them "first responders" to the need or crisis.
In 2014, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation partnered with the American Psychiatric Association and the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (a program of the American Association of People with Disabilities) to create The Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership. This Partnership has developed educational tools for mass distribution within any faith community.
The Partnership is a collaboration of psychiatrists and faith leaders representing diverse faith traditions. Psychiatrists and those in the mental health community gain perspective from the experience of spiritual leaders, and in turn, the faith leaders and their communities gain knowledge of the best science and evidence-based treatment for psychiatric illnesses.
From the work of the Partnership, we have created the Mental Health Guide for Faith Leaders, and have distributed over 2,500 Guides to faith leaders across America. In their role as "first responders," faith leaders can help dispel misunderstandings, reduce stigma associated with mental illness and treatment, and help provide access to treatment for those in need. The Guide and accompanying Quick Reference provide faith leaders with the knowledge, tools and resources to support that role.
The Guide includes a general overview of mental health and mental illness and information on how faith leaders can support people with mental health challenges. For example, it discusses how to create a more inclusive and welcoming community, when and how to make a referral to professional mental health services, and ways to deal with resistance to accepting mental health treatment.
"We mailed 530 of the faith guides to every active Deacon in our Archdiocese. We think the guide is an excellent reference tool and training manual for clergy, and we encouraged the Deacons to download a copy of the guide for their pastors and each of the staff members in their parish."
- Tom Lambert Deacon, Our Lady of Mt Carmel Parish in Chicago, Ill.; Co-chair, Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago Council on Mental Illness