March 2020 saw the world begin to focus on COVID-19. Amid the almost daily medical, social, and healthcare findings related to the pandemic, we were all working out how to personally survive and cope with it. Not initially apparent was how religious communities and faith-inspired organizations were coping with the pandemic and its aftermath.
Parishioners’ expectations often run high. They do not always consider the pressure that pastors face in providing spiritual and emotional support to their congregations. Even veteran ministers and long-standing congregations found the intensity and stress of the pandemic to be unprecedented. It has had an immense effect on everyone. In addition, pastors also experienced
1. Being on call 24/7.
2. Congregations declining due to deaths, social distancing, and services transitioning to being online.
3. Social unrest.
4. Delineating and assigning church duties to others who may not have had ministerial skills.
5. Counseling parishioners who experienced a mental health crisis without having the proper therapeutical background.
6. Ministering to their own families.
7. Asking for help for their own mental health.
8. No plans for a vacation or sabbatical.
10. Relationship conflict, withdrawal, reduced intimacy
Various statistics indicate that the suicide rate rose for pastors within the last two years. Figures indicate that one in five people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Church officiates—ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams—as well as church members are not exempt. A combination of biological, psychological, environmental, and other factors can render people vulnerable to suicide.
In the past, consistent faith engagement in the healthcare delivery of mental health services has not had a strong presence in churches. Why? Stigma and not understanding the ramifications of mental illness. Stigma pervades the general public and churches fall prey to it too. Hence, the development of FaithLink,
which can help break down stigma and deliver needed services in the church. The program presents an opportunity for mental health professionals and faith leaders to work together toward an improved quality of care for themselves and for individuals in their congregations who face mental health challenges
NAMI Franklin County and Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) are collaborating on this pilot program. Therapist agencies have been assigned to each of four participating pilot churches. The program timeline runs from October 1, 2021, through September 30, 2022.