Congregations often end up serving as a “front door” to the mental health system whether they acknowledge that role or not. People experiencing mental health issues (and their families) frequently turn to churches for help. And many churches report individuals literally coming through the front door in some form of obvious distress.
In 2016, EHF began offering Mental Health First Aid workshops to prepare members of the congregation and surrounding community to respond more effectively to people who are experiencing a mental health crisis and to connect them to the appropriate professional resources. The eight-hour, evidence-based certification program also helps educate people about mental health issues and reduce stigma associated with mental illness.
We had tremendous interest from congregations wanting to host the training and offer it to interested parishioners, staff and community members. Throughout 2016, EHF sponsored 20 training sessions hosted by 18 Episcopal churches and two other Episcopal institutions across the diocese. These training sessions reached participants in Austin, Brenham, Bryan, Conroe, Crockett, Galveston, Houston, Katy, Killeen, Kilgore, LaPorte, Nacogdoches, Navasota, Tomball, Tyler, Wharton and The Woodlands. Almost 450 people from 52 Episcopal churches and their surrounding communities were certified through the training.
92% of Congregations surveyed said that Mental Health First Aid had significant value to their church and 90% are now interested in participating in a mental health project with EHF.
Following the training, many participants said they felt more confident to deal with many aspects of mental health and illness:
- 98% could better recognize the signs that someone may be dealing with mental health problems or crisis
- 97% were more aware of their own views and feelings about mental health problems and disorders
- 96% were more confident to reach out to someone who may be dealing with a mental health problem or crisis
- 93% were more prepared to assist a person who may be dealing with a mental health problem or crisis to seek professional help (or peer/community supports)
- 93% were more confident they could recognize and correct misconceptions about mental health and mental illness as they encounter them
Since taking the MHFA training, participants have already put their training to use:
- 68% encountered someone who may be dealing with a mental health problem or crisis
- 60% reached out to someone who may have been dealing with a mental health problem or crisis
- 59% corrected a misconception about mental health in an interaction they had with someone
- 50% assisted a person who may be dealing with a mental health problem or crisis to seek professional help
- 41% offered a distressed person basic “first aid” level information about mental health problems
Training Unique to Congregations
Given the diversity across the diocese and the unique makeup of our congregations, participating institutions have used the training differently to meet their community’s needs. Here are just a few examples of the different ways congregations have hosted and used Mental Health First Aid in their community:
St. David’s, Austin
St. David’s in Austin hosted a training for their staff and volunteers from the Church, Trinity Center and St. David’s Episcopal School.
Camp Allen required its Summer Counselors to attend the Youth Mental Health First Aid supported by the EHF as part of their employment training this year. The training was provided by MHFA trainers specializing in youth mental health. The sessions were aimed at helping counselors working directly with youth to recognize mental health needs and appropriately respond to them.
St. Dunstan’s, Houston
The Hope Center is St. Dunstan’s 501c3 nonprofit organization that serves the homeless population in the Cypress-1960 area. The Center decided to train its staff and volunteers who work with the homeless population. Volunteers can now identify signs of mental illness among the homeless and better assist, if necessary.
All Saints’, Crockett
As a smaller-sized church, All Saints’ in Crockett hosted a training that not only included congregation members, but also leaders from across the community. Attendees included community leaders from various institutions such as the Crockett Fire Department, Crockett Police Department and Crockett Independent School District. EHF believes this model of including community agencies and organizations in the training is a great way to become more connected, demonstrate the ability of the church to serve as a bridge among different groups, and spread understanding in the community about mental illness.
St. Paul’s, Kilgore
The lay leadership at St. Paul’s in Kilgore hosted a Mental Health Weekend, which included the Mental Health First Aid training, a mental health themed Sunday service, and Adult Formation class which was an opportunity for members to learn more about mental health and what they can do in their community.
Waco – Saturday, January 28
Holy Spirit Episcopal Church
Beaumont – Saturday, May 13
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
Madisonville – Saturday, June 3
Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church