Think about five of your family or friends. One in five Canadians will face a mental health problem this year. Who around you is struggling? Surprisingly, Canadians lean into spiritual help, which is sadly unavailable when it is most needed.
This fact alone should cause the Church to pay attention.
Mental Health Help
The Mental Health Commission of Canada observed that individuals affected by mental health problems often seek help from spiritual leaders first and foremost. Given this reality, it is disheartening to hear so many reports from individuals who were not met with understanding in their local congregation.
One survey conducted among Christians diagnosed with depression found that most churches are unprepared to address the topic of mental health. Teaching and worship often fail to meet the experiential needs of those with mental health problems, and fellow congregants are uneducated regarding mental health.
If individuals struggling with mental health are turning to us for help, then we need to be prepared to provide it.
The Role of Faith
This is why The Sanctuary Course was created: to raise awareness and start conversations in local churches regarding mental health.
Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries was founded in 2012 by Reverend Dr. Sharon Smith and Reverend Caroline Penhale. Both women were members of the Community Mental Health Team formed by the Canadian Mental Health Association, where they conducted research focused on issues of spirituality in mental health care.
Through their work, each witnessed firsthand the absence of mental health support within the Church and the harmful effect this absence had on people of faith who were diagnosed with mental health problems. They founded Sanctuary in order to equip the Church to make a difference in the lives of individuals struggling with mental health problems.
3 Purposes of The Sanctuary Course
1. Explore the need for Church engagement in the broader mental health conversation
2. Consider the psychological, social, and theological components of mental health
3. Discuss the role that community plays in mental health support and recovery
This approach is not intended to produce experts or mental health professionals. Instead, it is designed to help you grow in awareness of mental health problems, respond with empathy to those who are suffering, and learn through listening to the stories of individuals who have lived experience.
Holding Space for Story
It is important to let individuals impacted by mental health problems be heard in their own words. When you listen to someone’s story, you take the time to view the world from their perspective. This awakens empathy and challenges unfair judgments.
The Sanctuary Course will help you build a mental health vocabulary within your community so that honest and meaningful conversations can take place. In time these conversations may become the foundation of change, transforming your church in its efforts to love and support individuals living with mental health problems.
Listening is Healing
The values of the course are reflected in the listening guidelines:
1. Be aware that listening wholly and attentively is a gift you offer to others.
2. Be aware of your body language; sit in a way that communicates openness and
displays your willingness to listen.
3. Listen not only to the words being spoken, but to the emotions being expressed.
4. Don’t rush to come up with a response; slow down and focus on simply
Churches in the ABNWT are successfully using the Sanctuary Course to build empathetic communities that are well intentioned and well informed. Al Downey and Bob Jones are can assist you in staring a local Sanctuary Course through your church.
Sanctuary Mental Health - https://www.sanctuarymentalhealth.org/sanctuary-course/
ABNWT Webinar on the Sanctuary Course - https://vimeo.com/503680864