The current Pope is more aware of this generation's concerns and issues than any before (Image via SBS)

Religious Leaders Are Generating More Mental Health Education

Religious leaders are starting to incorporate mental health awareness in their sermons and increasing public knowledge of the subject.

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Religious leaders are starting to incorporate mental health awareness in their sermons and increasing public knowledge of the subject.

At most college campuses there are specific periods during the semester meant to bring more awareness to mental health. Universities aim to address and relieve stressful triggers during the more taxing parts of the semester, however, their attempts do not address all spectrums of mental health.

Despite university efforts, suicide is still the second leading cause of death amongst 15 to 34-year-olds, which shows that something can be improved on when dealing with mental health.

Although students have access to mental health aid like on-campus therapists, therapy apps like Talkspace and stress relief dogs show there is little improvement in their mental health. While there is an increase of access to aid, mental illness is one of the most difficult illnesses to detect, which may be due to a lack of education about the issue from an early age.

Many people may have a variant of a mental illness disorder without knowing it. In public high schools, students are more likely to get a proper sexual education than a talk on mental health. Lack of proper education makes it difficult for students to approach friends they feel may have a problem.

Be that as it may, religious leaders in the United States have begun the first step in creating an informed public on mental health.

Places of worship have not been the go-to for mental health aid because of negative stigma around mental health in a religious setting. As archaic as it sounds, mental health treatment was more on the soul than the actual brain.

Victims of mental illness are often told to “attend Mass” or do charity work. It can be problematic when someone with mental illness is surrounded by people who are not well versed or cannot handle the illness properly, even moreso recognizing it in the first place.

Fortunately, that has recently changed when religious leaders have made themselves more aware of the lack of mental health awareness and address that in their sermons.

To start off with, there are more mental health ministries, programs for youth and adults and sermons about specific mental health concerns than before. In 2012, 23 percent of the places of worship reported they had such programs for their congregates.

Although 23 percent is not a lot, it is a jump from the eight percent in 2006, so there is some hope in the horizon that communities are informed about mental health and can create a network for those that struggle to word their mental illnesses.

Furthermore, Dr. Farha Abbasi from the Muslim Mental Health Conference worked with about 100 imams to handle basic mental health care, suicide prevention and trauma-informed care, all of which are crucial for the congregate to reach to someone they trust since most of the congregates are immigrants and refugees.

The conference aims to improve the American experience for Muslims in the United States by educating imams on the mental illnesses their congregates may experience.

The increase in mental health programs provided by places of worship and an annual conference for imams to be educated about basic mental health care are both practices that universities could mimic to address the increase of suicide rates.

All things considered, religious leaders are key to normalizing the occurrence of mental illness for two reasons. First, religious leaders are trusted to align moral compasses of all their congregates, including those who struggle with their thoughts and beliefs.

They are experts on the worldview of the congregates, and as a result, they should also be prepared with knowledge about mental health and prepared to educate the congregates.

Second, religious leaders also reach larger masses that will listen with the intention of improving their lives and the lives of others. Places of worship thrive off the people that come and worship, and places of worship are also sources of education for these people. Religious leaders become a teacher in another part of life when they give sermons about mental health.

While this may not tackle the issue of mental illness lacking resolution, it is still important that religious leaders are another source of mental health.

They cannot magically whisk away the illness, but sharing sermons to masses of people throughout the day is bound to bring attention to those who are struggling, and maybe one day they will be more confident to react appropriately and talk about the struggles with mental illness with them.

The phrase “you are not alone” will no longer be a weightless statement from someone trying to help. “You are not alone” is thrown at every mental health conference available, but that does not mean the mentally ill do not feel alone after that.

It is especially difficult for people with mental illness to share their thoughts when the environment, like school, family, or work, does not handle the exposure of mental illness well. However, an informed community changes that behavior when they are listening to their religious leader frequently mention the effects and severity of mental illness.

This is the networking that needs to be implemented if we want to decrease suicide or reckless behavior from mental illness because it creates the first step for mental health awareness.

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Natalya Pomeroy

University of Houston

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