October edition of Justice Dialogues focuses on mental health in communities

Photo by Headway on Unsplash.

VALLEY FORGE, PA (12/02/2023)–The October 25 edition of the Justice Dialogues, the American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ social justice-oriented webinar series, was focused on mental health. Dr. George Williams of Pathways to Promise was scheduled to be the featured speaker, but circumstances did not allow him to join.  The virtual event, facilitated by Rev. Kerwin Webb from the Healing & Transforming Communities unit, addressed the issue increasingly recognized as a challenge in the faith community. The dialogue brought together ministry leaders with experience and recommendations for tackling mental health in faith communities.

The topics broached during the lively discussion included historical resistance to acknowledge mental health issues which tended to be stigmatized in congregations; lack of mental health resources; changing attitudes to mental health issues as illustrated by some churches establishing specialized mental health ministries, and, in the broader context, celebrities speaking out about their own experiences with mental health; aggravation of mental health challenges correlating with drug use; stressors in daily life and ways to manage them, in particular the 24-hour news cycle and ubiquitous screens that transmit violence and financial worries; and finally, the nature of ministry work which often keeps one connected to others’ pain.

Solutions that were offered by participants included ministry leaders modeling healthy approaches to self-care; having a counselor and a social worker on church staff; and providing coping strategies training.

To provide an example of an innovative solution to a problem identified in the community, Rev. Matt Lundgren from Billings, Mont., shared his story about the  , a ministry in the form of a neighborhood action program of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies  Connected to the First Baptist Church in Billings, it is an outreach center that provides preschool services and is a licensed mental health center. It has grown exponentially since the pandemic; it began with just one therapist, and it now employs a physician, three nurse practitioners, three addiction counselors, and four case managers.

Speaking about the realization that there was a shortage of resources in the area, and a dire need for solutions, Lundgren said, “And so we stepped into that gap and said, we’re here to help.  We can do this because we are the body of Christ and we want to care for the lost, the vulnerable. So, we found funding. We sought solutions.  We hired people in faith.  And now, because of this magical license, we’re able to bill Medicaid, Medicare, seek reimbursement from tribal insurance. Montana is a large concentration of Native Americans.  And Billings is the hub for Native folks. And so, we’re able to seek some funding sources to pay the bills.”

Lundgren also underscored the importance of providing holistic family therapy to break cycles of violence, and the need to prioritize the availability of mental health treatment specifically for Native American children and youth; in the United States, suicide rates among Native Americans area two to three times higher than the national average, and Montana has the second highest suicide rate in the country (after Wyoming).

Webinar participants praised resources offered by Pathways2Promise, a multifaith and multicultural mental health support organization that addresses the need for comprehensive mental health support.

ABHMS’ Center for Continuous Learning offers a free series of five webinars titled “Let’s talk about Mental Health.” They cover suicide, grief, self-care, men’s mental health, and kids’ mental health.

The next edition of Justice Dialogues will take place on December 6, 2023, beginning at 1 pm. During this dialogue, participants will be offered “Insights of Palestinian and Israeli Realities in the Midst of the Israeli/Hamas War.” Please click here to register.