Advancing the cause of disability ministry

I’m pleased to announce to our readers that Barb Dittrich will be taking on an expanded role with our Key Ministry team. In addition to continuing the ministry she’s established to train and support parent mentors for families impacted by disability, Barb will become  our ministry’s Director of Advancement, effective immediately.

When we discuss advancement in the context of our ministry, we’re referring to the process of identifying people with the available time, talent and treasure to support the mission to which we’ve been called…connecting families of kids with disabilities to local churches for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Prior to joining our team, Barb served as the Executive Director of SNAPPIN’ Ministries, an organization that provided outreach to help parents of children with every sort of special need, from learning and emotional disabilities to physical disabilities and chronic diseases. She was very successful over many years in procuring the volunteers and resources necessary for sustaining their ministry with families touched by disability.

I want to share with our readers why we’re asking Barb to assume this expanded role. The scope and impact of our ministry – along with the ministry done by other like-minded organizations is exploding.

  • Our network of churches prepared to welcome families of kids with disabilities has more than doubled in size since the first of the year!

  • We received 101 requests from churches for consultation or training from January – July 2018 compared with 112 requests for all of 2017.
  • We’ve received over 160 requests for mental health ministry training or resources since releasing Mental Health and the Church this past February.
  • The Facebook group we provide for for providing resources and support for special needs and disability ministry leaders now has over 1,300 members and continues to grow weekly.

  • Our Inclusion Fusion Live disability ministry conference attracted more than 250 disability ministry leaders and family members. The main stage sessions made available through our Facebook page have been viewed more than 40,000 times!

Why did we need to ask Barb to take on an expanded role – for no additional pay? To borrow a term from the football training camps that have opened across our home region over the last two weeks, we’re “outkicking our coverage” -meaning that we’re providing far more ministry resources than we’re able to pay for. And we require significant help just to sustain the level of ministry training and support we’re already providing, much less to continue to grow in response to the need. We’re averaging around 20,000 unique visitors to our website per month, and approximately 40,000 page views per month across our blogs and platforms, not counting the approximately 5,000 church leaders and family members who subscribe to our blogs by e-mail.

We’re trying to do our work on a budget of roughly $7,000/month…and we brought in a little over $5,000/month for the first half of this year. We’re currently operating with a core staff of five, including two (your humble blogger and Catherine Boyle, our Mental Health Ministry Director) who volunteer all of their time to our ministry. Our team of approximately two dozen volunteer writers who create the content for churches and families also volunteer their services. We had no money to pay the speakers who came to our conference, and most had to pay their travel expenses as well to attend. We’re frugal!

Finding the money to support our ministry has been an ongoing challenge. Our two target audiences (pastors/church staff and families of kids with disabilities) are not noted for their discretionary income. I HATE bringing up the issue of finances or doing anything that makes it harder for churches with limited budgets to access the resources they need to help families. We can’t sustain what we’re doing much beyond the end of this year at our current pace. And that’s why we need to ask Barb to reallocate some of her time to help ensure we’ll have the resources we need to go forward.

We understand that many of the churches and families we serve don’t have any financial resources to share. We very much appreciate your prayers and encouragement! If you do have the ability to help us financially, your support would obviously be a great blessing! We’re also looking for a few “angels”…an individual, family, foundation, corporation or church that could help with a few very large needs…

  1. We’d like to put on another large disability ministry conference in 2019 for church leaders and families from throughout the Eastern U.S. and Canada. We could host an excellent conference with a larger audience and broader impact than this past year’s Inclusion Fusion Live for $15,000 while making the conference available to church leaders and families for a nominal cost.
  2. Outside of our personnel costs, the largest ongoing expense for our ministry involves the cost of getting our resources to church leaders and families through the use of social media advertising and e-mail. We spend close to $1,000 per month between social media and e-mail distribution. An angel who could cover those costs would be a great blessing! $2,000 per month would like allow us to more than double the current reach of our ministry.
  3. We’d like to produce a series of high quality, brief, “on-demand” training videos for church staff and volunteers addressing the most common questions and challenges they’re likely to encounter in the course of disability ministry. The videos would be made freely available through our website and social media platforms. We would film this in conjunction with next year’s Inclusion Fusion Live conference and invite the broad range of speakers in attendance to contribute. If an “angel” would be interested in funding this project, we’ll reach out to local videographers for cost estimates.

Any “angels” interested in helping to meet our need can feel free to contact me (steve@keyministry.org) or Barb (barb@keyministry.org) with any questions or ideas.

We know God has the resources to meet the need. We appreciate your prayers for Barb in her new role and for our ministry as a whole…that we’d honor God while remaining faithful to our mission and carrying out the plans he has for us!
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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

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It’s the hidden disabilities that keep kids out of church

A landmark study in the disability ministry field was published by Dr. Andrew Whitehead of Clemson University in this month’s Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion examining the impact of a variety of physical, developmental and mental health disabilities upon church attendance using data generated from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH).

What makes this study a “game changer” is the suggestion that the kids who are least likely to attend church aren’t necessarily those who have been the traditional focus of the disability ministry field – kids with intellectual or physical disabilities. The study found that the children most likely to be excluded from church are those with autism spectrum disorders and common mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder and ADHD.

For the purpose of this study, Dr. Whitehead accessed data from three waves of the NSCH (2003, 2007, 2010-11) and compared the reported rates of children never having attended a religious service in the past year among kids with no identified disability to rates among children with twenty different chronic health conditions included in the survey. The large sample size of the survey – 95,677 phone interviews were conducted for the 2010-11 wave – allows for meaningful statistical comparisons.

Dr. Whitehead noted that children with no reported chronic health condition were significantly less likely to report never attending church services compared to the population as a whole. In contrast, kids with the following health conditions were significantly more likely to report never having attended church

  • Children with autism spectrum disorders are 1.84 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with depression are 1.73 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with traumatic brain injury are 1.71 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are 1.48 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with anxiety are 1.45 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with speech problems were 1.42 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Children with learning disabilities were 1.36 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Kids with ADD/ADHD were 1.19 times more likely to never attend church.
  • Kids with bone, joint and muscle problems were 1.15 times more likely to never attend church.

The study also noted a number of other chronic health conditions that had no effect on church attendance. Those conditions included:

  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing problems
  • Vision Problems
  • Intellectual disability (2010-11 wave)
  • Cerebral palsy (2010-11 wave)

Dr. Whitehead’s interpretation of the study results was that conditions that negatively impact upon social interaction or communication are those that result in the greatest impact upon church attendance.

It appears that across a range of chronic health conditions, those that areprimarily characterized by deficiencies in social interaction or might impede communication are most consistently andsignificantly associated with disengagement with attendance at religious worship services. Furthermore, these results strongly suggest that the higher probability of children with particular health conditions never attending religious services has been stable over time. Prior research signals that thisis likely due to factors attributable to barriers within congregations as well asthe characteristics of the children’s disability. As Ault, Collins, and Carter point out, the behavioral characteristics of children with various chronic health conditions play an important role in structuring if and how they will be integrated into congregational life. Children with autismspectrum disorders, developmental delays, and conduct disorders allmanifest a range of social and behavioral characteristics that routinely resultin strained social encounters and interactions. Likewise, children with speech problems might not be able to communicate as easily as their peers. The particular behavioral characteristics or physical limitations associated with these health conditions appear to limit these children’s ability to attend religious services.

Dr. Whitehead’s analysis didn’t include data examining the frequency of church attendance among kids with the chronic health conditions identified in the study. My hypothesis is that not only is it less likely that families of kids with autism, mental health concerns and other hidden disabilities will ever attend church, but those who do attend church are able to attend less frequently than families unaffected by those disabilities.

The findings of his study are consistent with the hypotheses that underlie the inclusion model our team developed for churches seeking to become more intentional about welcoming families affected by mental illness. I’d add to his observations about social communication and interaction that conditions impacting a child’s capacity for emotional regulation and self-control also appear to cause great challenges at church. The highly significant association reported between church attendance, depression and anxiety likely results from the impact those conditions have upon the ability or willingness to enter into social interactions and relationships at church.

My question to our readers… WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH PREPARED TO DO IN RESPONSE TO THE RESULTS OF THIS STUDY?

If your church is prepared to act, our team is prepared to help!

We have a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry that we believe is useful for churches of all sizes, denominations and organizational styles.

We have a complete library of free training videos to help pastors, church staff and volunteers to understand and implement our mental health inclusion model.

We have trained and experienced staff and volunteers available to help address questions and challenges that arise as your church seeks to develop a mental health inclusion strategy. Your inclusion team can use this link to contact our ministry team for help.

Dr. Whitehead’s study is a clear call to pastors and ministry leaders that it’s time we do more to ensure that there’s a welcoming church available for every child and every family!
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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

 

 

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The sexual revolution, our kids and suicide…a new look

Two years ago in this space, we examined a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control looking at the relationship between sexual identity, sexual activity and high-risk behaviors in teens, with a focus on the data examine the relationship between sexual activity and suicide. The CDC released updated data several weeks ago from the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey of approximately 15,000 teens, completed in December 2017. Results from the 2017 survey suggest that many high school students are engaged in health-risk behaviors associated with the leading causes of death among young people in the United States. During the 30 days before the survey…

  • 39.2% of high school students nationwide (among the 62.8% who drove a car or other vehicle during the 30 days before the survey) had texted or e-mailed while driving.
  • 29.8% reported current alcohol use, and 19.8% reported current marijuana use.
  • 14.0% of students had taken prescription pain medicine without a doctor’s prescription or differently than how a doctor told them to use it one or more times during their life.
  • During the 12 months before the survey, 7.4% had attempted suicide.
  • Nationwide, 39.5% of students had ever had sexual intercourse and 9.7% had had sexual intercourse with four or more persons during their life.
  • 8.8% of high school students had smoked cigarettes and 13.2% had used an electronic vapor product on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.
  • Forty-three percent played video or computer games or used a computer for 3 or more hours per day on an average school day for something that was not school work.

The prevalence of many health-risk behaviors is significantly higher among sexual minority students compared with heterosexual students. The reasons for this difference aren’t completely clear, but trauma appears to be a significant factor.

According to the survey, sexual minority youth are four times more likely to have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want tocompared to heterosexual youth, three times more likely to have experienced sexual violence in the last twelve months compared to the general population, and two to three times more likely to have experienced physical or sexual dating violence.

Suicidal thinking and the severity of suicidal behavior are HIGHLY correlated with sexual activity in teens. Students who experienced sexual contact with the same or both sexes are approximately 294% more likely to report having attempted suicide compared to students who had sexual contact with the opposite sex only and 567% more likely to report having attempted suicide than students with no sexual contact. Boys who experienced sexual contact with the opposite sex only were 232% more likely to report having attempted suicide compared to those with no sexual contact. Girls who experienced sexual contact with the opposite sex only were 188% more likely to report having attempted suicide than those with no sexual contact.

Since the time of our original post two years ago, I’ve continued to be struck by the association between early involvement in sexual activity and an increased risk for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicidal behavior among the kids who pass through our practice. I wish parents, educators and church leaders would come to recognize that many teenagers aren’t remotely prepared to manage the intensity of emotions that results when relationships become sexualized. Those who ultimately commit suicide represent casualties of the sexual revolution.

There are lots of limitations to the conclusions that can few drawn from the study. We can’t tell from the way the data is presented whether suicidal behavior increases as the total number of sexual contacts increases. We don’t have a breakdown that shows suicide statistics comparing rates between heterosexual and sexual minority youth who have been victims of sexual violence. We don’t know whether rates of suicidal behavior “normalize” among teens with same-sex attraction who refrain from sexual activity.

Some thoughts that crossed my mind after reviewing this study…

Maybe we need to think about mental illness as a sexually transmitted disease, at least in the teen population? My guess as to why we don’t think of it that way is that there isn’t a way to make sex more safe from an emotional standpoint. Condoms don’t protect against emotional trauma.

Do our kids need to develop resilience and learn self-control more than they need “safe spaces?” When one in fourteen high schoolers reports having attempted suicide at least once during the preceding twelve months, clearly millions of kids are struggling to cope with the emotional challenges of adolescence. We’ve made significant strides in reducing smoking rates in teenagers by emphasizing the effects upon health and laws that make it more difficult to access cigarettes. Does our suicide crisis necessitate we make a similar effort to reduce sexual activity in teens?

We need a #MeToo movement to protect teens from sexual violence – especially teens who are members of sexual minorities. Maybe we need to consider raising the age of sexual consent? Maybe our more progressive churches led by members of sexual minorities could take the lead in changing attitudes regarding “coming of age” experiences between adults and LGBTQ youth? How is it acceptable in 2018 that a movie glorifying sexual predation and abuse can not only be nominated for, but win Academy awards?

I came away from this study impressed by the need for pastors and church leaders who work with youth to become more trauma-informed. One in fourteen high school students (and more than one in five sexual minority youth) have experienced forced intercourse, and one in ten (three in ten among sexual minority youth) have been victims of sexual violence.  The results of this study suggest that a better understanding of trauma is essential to those serving all kids – especially kids with same sex attraction– in youth ministry settings.

Finally, how is it still socially acceptable in this day and age for advertisers and social media platforms to promote sexual behavior in youth when a clear association exists between sexual behavior and suicide? Hats off to Abercrombie and Hollister for getting rid of their shirtless models. And how is it OK for parents to facilitate opportunities for their teens to engage in sexual contact with other teens? How are “coed sleepovers” for teens acceptable? How is it OK for the nation’s “paper of record” to celebrate the sexualized relationships of teens in the pages of its’ magazine?

In the midst of a culture that puts great pressure on teens and adults to define themselves through their sexual attractions and prowess, the church has the ability to introduce our youth to a better – and safer better way of discovering their true identity!.

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shutterstock_138372947Know a family impacted by disability in need of help finding a local church? Encourage them to register for Key for Families. We can help connect families with local churches prepared to offer faith, friendship and support, while providing them with encouragement though our Facebook communities. Refer a friend today!

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Traditional churches and the mental health system…Irreconcilable differences?

Two weeks ago, I shared a post on the topic of Why the church and the mental health system should work together. Upon further reflection, I think a better question is: Can the church and the mental health system work together? And sadly, I’m coming to suspect the answer to that question is NO…so long as that church adheres to traditional teaching and Biblical interpretation addressing human sexuality.

Since my last post, I spoke at an event sponsored by a mental health board here in Ohio that serves a large and diverse population in a region of our state that most sociologists would describe as “culturally conservative.” The panel discussion that followed my talk on how the mental health system could help churches serve individuals and families affected by mental illness was dominated by LGBTQ-oriented questions and statements.

During the panel discussion, one attendee strongly implied that the inclusion of statistics in my presentation from Lifeway Research and Focus on the Family and referencing organizations such as Saddleback Church and the ERLC represented an act of hostility toward the LGBT community. I’d think the reaction would’ve been pretty similar from any secular group of mental health professionals anywhere in the country.  I found myself very encouraged by the presence of a pastor on the panel involved in ministry with at-risk kids who also represented a more traditional Christian perspective pertaining to human sexuality.

The church’s teaching on sexuality is a big issue to a great many people in the mental health field. Let me try to summarize what I see as a prevailing view among many mental health professionals

Sexual minorities represent a vulnerable population. Their status as a sexual minority is largely immutable and an essential component of their identity. The increased prevalence of mental illness and suicidal behavior reported among sexual minorities is a function of the shame and condemnation of their lifestyle they experience from contact with the larger culture. Failure to accept and affirm them in the expression of their sexual identity (with sexual activity representing an integral component of such expression) is tantamount to assault upon their dignity. Any statements or teaching with the potential for causing guilt or distress increase their risk for suicide and a variety of mental health conditions.

Contrast that with what I would consider a traditional Christian view of sexuality…

God intended for sexual relationships between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. In Jesus’ words…

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?

Matthew 19:4-5  (ESV)

The Bible clearly teaches that alternative sexual relationships are sinful and disrupt our relationship with God. See Leviticus 18, Romans 1, or 1 Corinthians 6. In the final passage, Paul emphasizes that once we become Christians, our bodies are not our own – they – and everything we have belongs to God! In the next chapter, he expounds on this teaching by noting that husbands and wives are to give their bodies to one another – and one another only! The expectation for sexual expression outside of marriage is self-control.

Moreover, the Bible has very different thoughts than the larger culture on the source of our identity. Paul makes a point in Romans 6 that we take on a new identity when we come to faith in Christ…

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Paul continues in Galatians 3

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Throughout Romans 7, Paul describes the internal struggle on the struggle between our old and new identities…

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

The traditional Christian view of sexuality and identity is radically countercultural and the teachings are essential to the faith and not easily dismissed as belonging to a different time and context. Life would certainly be easier for believers such as myself if they could be easily dismissed. But we don’t get to decide which of God’s commands we choose to honor and which we can easily dismiss. We put ourselves in the position of God when we assume we can do so. And when we do so, the Gospel loses its power and allure.

The reality is that the traditional Christian view of sexuality and identity is irreconcilable with very closely held values and beliefs of an influential majority of mental health practitioners. How do we work with folks who view our core beliefs as an assault on their dignity and the dignity of those we serve? Churches or individuals who support traditional marriage and expressions of sexuality are pariahs to them. Given the incompatibility of the prevailing views on sexual expression between churches and the mental health community, I think there will be little possibility for partnership unless at least one of the following conditions is met…

  • The church abandons traditional teaching on sexuality and marriage and seeks to affirm alternative definitions of marriage and avenues of sexual expression.
  • The church is predominantly composed of members of a protected class.
  • The church has an unimpeachable reputation in the community for work on behalf of social justice and downplays public pronouncements or teaching related to sexual expression.

I met a very kind and compassionate pastor at my recent presentation who started a church specifically to serve the LGBTQ community. When I asked her how the church was doing, she indicated they were struggling and explained her challenge by stating that gay and lesbian people aren’t in the habit of going to church on Sunday. What I wish I had said in the moment is that I can’t imagine why a watered down version of the faith that declares  our sexuality to be off-limits to God would be appealing to anyone. While I fervently hope that individuals with mental illness and their families come to be included in their larger family in Christ, we can’t compromise the integrity of the gospel message to bring about that goal.

When I first launched this blog eight years ago, my intent was to build a bridge between two worlds…the “church” world I inhabited as an attendee and a leader and my “work” world inhabited by kids and families impacted by mental illness or developmental disabilities. While I certainly see myself as qualified to serve as a guide to church leaders as they seek to understand the struggles of families impacted by those conditions, I no longer feel I belong in gatherings of my fellow mental health professionals. My values and beliefs are too incompatible with those of the vast majority of my peers.

The chasm between my two worlds is widening…making the need for the church to extend the love of Christ to kids and families on the other side of the chasm even more imperative.
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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health, Strategies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why the church and the mental health system should work together

This coming Thursday, I’ve been invited to speak at an event sponsored by the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board as part of their Cultural Influence and Health Care series focusing on faith-based culture and community. The event will be held in the Johnson Center of Malone University in Canton, Ohio and is free and open to the public. Click here if you’re interested in attending.

My talk is titled Helping Churches Support Individuals and Families Affected by Mental Illness and is different from any other presentation I’ve done on this topic in that I’m speaking with clinicians working in the mental health system as opposed to church leaders. There are lots of reasons why churches and mental health service providers should work together. Whether these partnerships are possible in the current cultural climate is an entirely different question.

If I were an executive director of a local mental health board, I can think of lots of reasons why I’d be interested in building relationships with church leaders in the area I served. According to a study in the journal Health Services Research:

  • Approximately one quarter of persons seeking care turn to a member of the clergy before contacting a mental health service provider.
  • More people with mental health issues turn to clergy than psychiatrists.
  • One in six persons who approach clergy for help are experiencing serious mental illness.
  • The intensity of care and support provided by churches often doesn’t match the severity of illness.

Churches provide services and support to a large segment of the population who would otherwise increase demands on the mental health system. At the same time, mental health professionals and leaders have an interest in seeing that the care provided by churches is of high quality and meets the needs of those being served.

Churches have an incentive to partner with individual mental health practitioners and organizations in the communities they serve. According to the LifeWay Study of Acute Mental Illness and Christian Faith, among adults surveyed with acute mental illness:

  • 69% want churches to help families find local resources for support and dealing with the illness.
  • 59% want churches to talk about it openly so the topic is not so taboo.
  • 57% want churches to improve people’s understanding of mental illness.
  • 55% want churches to provide training for members to better understand mental illness.
  • 53% want churches to increase awareness of how prevalent mental illness is today.

Church members want help in finding mental health resources in their local communities. Such assistance may not be as available as church leaders believe. According to the LifeWay study, 68% of pastors believe their churches maintain mental health referral lists, compared to 28% of family members of adults with mental illness.

Church leaders also have a perception problem among outsiders as to whether persons with mental illness will feel welcomed.

Churches need assistance in understanding the needs of persons with mental illness and connecting them with appropriate services. Churches also provide lots free assistance and support to individuals and families served by the mental health system. Lots of low-cost and no-cost counseling. Respite care for families of kids with significant emotional and behavioral disorders. Emergency financial support. After-school programming or tutoring for at-risk kids. Safe and healthy peer group environments for kids who need more friends.  It makes too much sense for churches and the mental health system to form mutually beneficial partnerships

Here are four broad areas that appear ripe for collaboration…

  1. Facilitating referrals. One of the mental health supports church attendees desired according to the LifeWay study was assistance in accessing treatment when necessary. Pastors also need the ability to quickly connect attendees with severe mental illness to the appropriate level of care. Any mental health agency or clinic that depends upon a steady stream of referrals and serves large numbers of people covered by public or private insurance would be well-served from a business perspective to establish a simple and reliable referral process for churches.
  2. Educating pastors and church staff  on the mental health needs of the population they serve. Three specific training areas for which I see a significant need are Mental Health First Aid, assistance in becoming trauma-informed and training for pastors and church staff in evidence-based counseling approaches.
  3. Using churches to promote the availability of mental health supports. In this day and age, even churches of modest size often have substantial social media platforms. Churches can use both their facilities and social media tools to educate the communities they serve about the resources and supports available in the community.
  4. Innovation to serve families affected by mental illness. Churches can be a source of recruitment for therapeutic foster families – or respite for families serving in therapeutic foster care, as well as families to serve kids with mental illness in traditional foster homes. Many kids in faith-based schools have the same need for counseling or case management services that kids receive who are enrolled in public schools.  Churches with a long tradition of supporting development of low-income housing through organizations such as Habitat for Humanity would appear to be natural partners for local mental health boards with limited budgets seeking to provide housing for adults with chronic mental illness.

What if you’re a mental health professional? How can you use your gifts and talents to support your church in ministry with persons with mental health concerns?

Become an advocate for a mental health inclusion strategy in your church.

Volunteer to serve as a mental health liaison in your church. A mental health liaison is someone who can help connect persons in the church in needs of mental health services to appropriate resources in the community who also works with pastors and church leadership to include individuals with mental health issues into worship services and other church activities designed to promote spiritual growth.

Offer to start a mental health support group in your church. Possibilities include…

  • Grace Groups (Mental Health Grace Alliance)
  • Fresh Hope groups (Fresh Hope)
  • Celebrate Recovery (Saddleback Church)
  • NAMI groups

So…where do we start? And why hasn’t this happened already? I’ll look at that issue in more detail in next Sunday’s post.

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In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

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Eight things I think about the suicide epidemic

During a week in which we learned of the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced that suicide rates in the U.S. have increased nearly 30%, and the rate of suicide increased in 49 of 50 states during that time.

There’s no one explanation for the explosion in suicide rates across the population. Here are eight thoughts for church leaders and my fellow Christians to consider in making sense  of the suicide epidemic.

Escalating suicide rates are another sign of the decreasing influence of Christianity in the larger culture. Twenty years ago, the fear of God was often cited by teens sitting in my office as a deterrent to acting upon suicidal thoughts. As fewer and fewer people believe in God, we’d expect less constraint on suicidal behavior resulting from fear of eternal consequences. We also know there’s an inverse relationship between church attendance and suicide. This study of middle-aged women demonstrated a five-fold decrease in suicide rates among weekly church attenders.

The increases in suicide rates represent a natural consequence of a culture beginning to embrace physician-assisted suicide. Is it any surprise that suicide raters are increasing as more states move to legalize physician-assisted suicide? We glamorize the lives of people like Brittany Maynard, a young, attractive woman with brain cancer who overdosed on medication prescribed by her doctor. Or the elderly couple in Toronto who were well enough to enjoy date night at their favorite restaurant two days before committing suicide together with the assistance of their physicians. Here’s a look at research showing the increases in suicide rates that result where physician-assisted suicide is legalized.

Suicide is a symptom of society’s emphasis on self-determination. Here’s a summary of the argument for the right to assisted suicide from a physician serving and transgender activist who bases their argument on the right to self-determination. Quoting from Dr. Dana Beyer’s argument…

Self-determination is intimately bound up with all three rights. An individual should be free to live her life as she sees fit, and not submit to her family, friends, physicians or religious community, and certainly not to the state. While there are profound ethical issues that touch upon this time of life, they do not trump the person’s right to live fully to the very end, and alleviate her own personal suffering – her final pursuit of happiness.

We have lots of people who commit suicide with serious, unidentified mental health issues. An interesting finding in the CDC data is that more than half of people who died by suicide (54%) did not have a known mental health condition.

Our mental health treatment isn’t particularly effective, especially when it comes to treating depression and anxiety that often contribute to suicide. Take a look at this data examining suicide rates in the U.S. population from 1950-present.

The first antidepressant medications came out in the 1950s and 1960s. The first SSRIs (Prozac and Zoloft) came out in 1988 and 1991, respectively. Over the next decade, we saw significant decreases in suicide rates, even though the effect sizes of antidepressants for depression are relatively small. The rates today are higher than those of seventy years ago, before we had any effective treatment for mental health conditions contributing to suicide risk.

Publicity around suicide lowers the threshold for other people to commit suicide. Here’s a summary from a national workshop held by the CDC on contagion associated with reporting of suicide. The problem is likely worse following the advent of online media dependent upon “clicks” resulting from attention-grabbing headlines.

We’re losing our ability to respond appropriately to adversity. Research suggests that resiliency following stressful events is in short supply. According to the CDC, four of the five most common factors associated with suicide include relationship problems, a crisis in the past or coming two weeks, a physical health problem or a job/financial problem. People who lack the resources to respond to stressful life events are at greater risk of suicide.

People are more socially isolated and lonely than ever before. A former surgeon general discussed the extent to which loneliness represents a public health crisis. One hypothesis behind the protective value of regular attendance at worship services is the social interaction that takes place at church.

To my church friends…We need to quit hiding our light under a bushel basket! We have a Gospel that provides a sense of meaning and purpose and hope for the future resulting from our faith in Christ. We can provide companionship and community to people who are lonely and isolated. To be “pro-life” includes taking an interest in the lives of the people around us who are hurting.

Interested in learning more about recognizing risk factors for suicide in the people around you? Check out this information from the folks at the CDC. If you need help for yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online at  www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

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Meet Catherine Boyle…our new Director of Mental Health Ministry!

We’re delighted to welcome Catherine Boyle to our ministry team! Catherine will be assuming a key leadership role in overseeing our efforts to support churches in mental health outreach and inclusion. Her primary responsibilities will include…

  • Increasing awareness and implementation of mental health ministry in churches across the U.S. and beyond.
  • Developing strategies to connect families affected by mental illness with churches prepared to welcome and support them.
  • Developing funding streams to support Key Ministry-sponsored mental health ministry initiatives and operations.

Some specific projects Catherine will be working on will include…

a. Developing relationships between Key Ministry and individual churches, denominations and like-minded organizations with interest in mental health ministry.

b. Launching and facilitating  a Mental Health Ministry Video Roundtable – similar to the Disability Ministry Video Roundtable we host on a monthly basis for the special needs ministry community.

c. Providing consultation services to churches seeking to implement and/or improve mental health ministry. Catherine will serve as the initial point of contact for churches seeking training, consultation or resources from Key Ministry related to mental health ministry.

d. Developing resources for individuals called to serve as mental health liaisons in their local churches, along with resources for churches seeking to establish ministry positions for mental health liaisons.

Catherine has been impacted by mental health issues her entire life, having experienced her own struggles with anorexia, bulimia,anxiety and depression. She authored Hungry Souls: What the Bible Says About Eating Disorder, and helped launch a ministry home for women with eating disorders. In 2015, Catherine founded Outside In Ministries, focusing on how the church can minister to and with people with mental health issues.

Professionally, Catherine served as an executive at a large U.S. bank. She has led various church and community ministries, and has been interviewed for her ministry work on radio, television and in online magazines. She has a BBA in Accounting and an MBA from Virginia Commonwealth University. Catherine lives in Richmond, Virginia and has been married to Barney since 1994. They have two children (Jack, 21 and Natalie, 18). Catherine spends free time sewing or doing needlework and working out at the local YMCA.

Please join me in welcoming Catherine to our ministry team. She may be reached at catherine@keyministry.org.

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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

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Why are children’s hospital ERs becoming flooded with suicidal kids?

A study published this past week in the journal Pediatrics shed light upon the growing mental health crisis among American youth. Between 2008 and 2015, the study documents a nearly three-fold increase in the percentage of pediatric hospital emergency room visits related to suicidal thinking or behavior. Here’s the study abstract:

OBJECTIVES: Suicide ideation (SI) and suicide attempts (SAs) have been reported as increasing among US children over the last decade. We examined trends in emergency and inpatient encounters for SI and SA at US children’s hospitals from 2008 to 2015.

METHODS: We used retrospective analysis of administrative billing data from the Pediatric Health Information System database.

RESULTS: There were 115,856 SI and SA encounters during the study period. Annual percentage of all visits for SI and SA almost doubled, increasing from 0.66% in 2008 to 1.82% in 2015 (average annual increase 0.16 percentage points [95% confidence intervals (CIs) 0.15 to 0.17]). Significant increases were noted in all age groups but were higher in adolescents 15 to 17 years old (average annual increase 0.27 percentage points [95% CI 0.23 to 0.30]) and adolescents 12 to 14 years old (average annual increase 0.25 percentage points [95% CI 0.21 to 0.27]). Increases were noted in girls (average annual increase 0.14 percentage points [95% CI 0.13 to 0.15]) and boys (average annual increase 0.10 percentage points [95% CI 0.09 to 0.11]), but were higher for girls. Seasonal variation was also observed, with the lowest percentage of cases occurring during the summer and the highest during spring and fall.

CONCLUSIONS: Encounters for SI and SA at US children’s hospitals increased steadily from 2008 to 2015 and accounted for an increasing percentage of all hospital encounters. Increases were noted across all age groups, with consistent seasonal patterns that persisted over the study period. The growing impact of pediatric mental health disorders has important implications for children’s hospitals and health care delivery systems.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Gregory Plemmons of Vanderbilt University speculated that bullying, decreasing age of puberty for females, social contagion, less resilience and less stigma leading to more reports of suicidal thoughts were possible contributing factors to the reported increase.

I’d like to suggest that other contributing factors may be at play and challenge our readers to consider how they might contribute to a healthier and more supportive culture for kids at risk of developing suicidal thinking and behavior.

Technology. This study examined data from 2008-2015. Can you think of any innovation that became available around that time that transformed the ways in which teens view themselves and communicate with one another? By 2015, nearly three quarters of teens owned smartphones, 92% accessed the internet daily and nearly a quarter of teens were online “almost constantly” according to this study from the Pew Research Center. I’d argue there are at least three ways in which technology contributes to increasing rates of suicidal thinking and behavior:

  • Technology provides kids with the tools to publicly humiliate one another on a scale that was never before possible. Social media and texting has also facilitated a level of vulgarity in electronic communication that didn’t exist when most interactions occurred either face to face or over the phone.
  • Technology intensifies the propensity common among many kids to view themselves much more negatively than their peers and reinforces their sense of inadequacy and social isolation. Kids now have raw data quantify their relative popularity through the number of “likes” and comments on their Instagram posts and other social media platforms.
  • Technology exposes many kids to sexually explicit material online, which increases the likelihood of sexual behavior offline. More on that below.

School. There was an unmistakable pattern in the study data, of no surprise to those of us in child and adolescent psychiatry indicating more kids come to emergency rooms with suicidal thinking or behavior in the fall and spring, and fewer kids present in the summer. The highest rates were reported among older teens, with a 27% average annual increase between 2008 and 2015.

I’d argue that high-stakes testing in schools along with the extreme pressure kids are under to perform well enough to get accepted into their colleges of choice and to earn enough scholarship money to attend their colleges of choice, superimposed upon the increased potential for peer conflict while school is in session are all significant contributors to the higher suicide rate. We saw a huge uptick in the number of anxious and depressed kids in our practice following the 2008 stock market crash as many families had large chunks of college savings wiped out while tuition and fees continued to escalate much faster than the rate of inflation.

Family Composition/Structure. According to this study in The Lancet, kids who grow up in single parent households when compared with those in two-parent households are at more than double the risk of developing a mental health disorder during childhood or attempting suicide. The number of children growing up in single parent households continues to rise, and a minority of American children live in homes together with two parents in their first marriage. This statement isn’t a criticism of the single parents, divorced parents, grandparents or foster parents who heroically raise children in difficult circumstances, but we’re going to see more and more kids with serious psychiatric issues as fewer and fewer grow up with a mother and father who are married to one another.

The Declining Impact of Christianity. I’ve historically seen lots of kids in my practice with profound unhappiness who wished they were dead, but were reluctant to take their own lives out of fear for the eternal consequences of their actions. As more and more teens are raised in non-Christian families or families with no religious affiliation, I’d hypothesize that more teens are now less afraid of suicide than in the past.

The Sexual Revolution. While it is true that the percentage of American teens who are sexually active has been relatively stable over time, it is also true that public health officials are either oblivious to the links between early sexual activity and suicidal behavior or deliberately ignore the available research for political or public policy reasons. Furthermore, sexual activity among U.S. teens is highly correlated to suicidal behavior resulting in the need for medical attention, especially among youth from sexual minorities. And among the millennial generation represented in the Pediatrics study, the rate at which they identify as LGBT is more than double that of any previous generation.

  • Overall, students who experienced sexual contact with the same or both sexes are approximately over three times more likely to have been seen by a doctor or nurse following a suicide attempt compared to students who had sexual contact with the opposite sex only and over twelve times more likely to have been seen by a doctor or nurse following a suicide attempt than students with no sexual contact.
  • Boys who experienced sexual contact with the opposite sex only were seven times more likely to have been seen by a doctor or nurse following a suicide attempt compared to those with no sexual contact.
  • Girls who experienced sexual contact with the opposite sex only were more than three  more likely to have been seen by a doctor or nurse following a suicide attempt than those with no sexual contact.

So, what should adults who care about the emotional well-being of vulnerable youth do to reduce the risk of teens in their lives ending up in a hospital emergency room?

Responsible adults look after their children during their time online. In a country where adults are inclined to call social services when they see an unsupervised kid on the playground we seem to think it’s OK to allow our kids unfettered access to environments filled with predators, pornography and openly hateful peers. Ignoring your child’s online life is no different than trusting them and a member of the opposite sex to hang out in their bedroom with the door shut.

Avoid words and actions that unduly add to the pressure kids experience at school. If you’re a Christian parent, do you believe that God has a plan for your child’s life? If that plan involves attending an Ivy League college or some other prestigious school, do you believe God is capable of providing them access to the school and the financial means of attending? How much does your teen see you worry about their academic performance and future plans? What does your worry communicate to them?

Take your responsibilities as a spiritual leader seriously. While most of the research isn’t specific to kids, faith appears to be a protective factor against suicidal behavior. We also know that religiosity in teens is a predictor of their ability to delay the onset of sexual activity.

This is purely anecdotal, but a couple of months ago I was speaking with a colleague who recently accepted a position in which they were providing ongoing treatment to a population largely composed of kids who had recently been discharged from local psychiatric hospitals. Of the first fifty kids they met with, one came from a family that was actively involved with a local church.

Familiarize yourself with the risk factors for suicidal behavior in teens and don’t be afraid to ask your teen how they feel! It’s always a good idea to ask when you see signs of depression or suicidal behavior, even if you feel uncomfortable. Be prepared to take the following steps if a teenager you love is thinking of suicide or serious self-harm.

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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

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Key Ministry’s video training series on Mental Health and the Church

Our team is pleased to announce we’ve completed a library of training videos designed to accompany and support Mental Health and the Church, Key Ministry’s book on including children, teens, adults and families impacted by mental illness at church.

The series of fourteen short videos (each is approximately ten minutes in length) is intended to serve as a resource to pastors and ministry leaders seeking to develop a mental health inclusion strategy within their churches.

The videos roughly correspond to the chapter outline in the book. The first two videos describe why intentional mental health inclusion ministry is necessary and address the ways in which mental illness is different from other types of disabilities supported at church. The third video introduces seven common barriers to church participation associated with mental illness. Videos four through six introduce the seven broad mental health inclusion strategies proposed in the book, and videos seven through thirteen discuss the ways in which the inclusion strategies may be used to overcome the barriers to church attendance, including:

  • Stigma
  • Anxiety
  • Self-control (executive functioning)
  • Sensory processing
  • Social communication
  • Social isolation
  • Past experiences of church

The final video segment describes the tools and resources available through our ministry and other like-minded ministry organizations for churches wanting to become more intentional about welcoming and including individual and families affected by mental illness into worship services and other church activities.

To access the video series, simply click this link to the page on our website where the videos are housed. In addition to the training videos, we also have made available an informational page on the book, recommended books and resources for mental health inclusion, a guide to other mental health ministry organizations, research pertaining to mental illness and church involvement, sermons in which the topic of mental illness is addressed, helpful social media resources and stories from individuals and families about their experiences of attending church with a mental health condition.

Our team hopes these resources will be helpful to your church as you take the next step in developing your mental health ministry. If you need further assistance from our team, feel free to contact us and let us know how Key Ministry can help you launch or grow your ministry!

Special thanks to the video production teams of First Christian Church in Canton, OH and Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, OH for helping to make this video training series possible!

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In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

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Join Kelly Rosati, Amy Simpson, Kay Warren and myself for a Twitter chat on youth mental health

Since 1949, the month of May has been officially designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. This year our ministry is honored to join with HHS Center for Faith and Opportunity (@Partners for Good) along with three of the most prominent mental health advocates in the Christian community for a special event to discuss ways in which faith and community leaders can best support kids with  mental health issues and their families and help point faith leaders and families to available resources.

I’d like to invite our readers to join with me, along with Kelly Rosati, Amy SimpsonKay Warren and others on Tuesday, May 8th at 2:00 PM Eastern time for a Twitter chat designed to encourage pastors, ministry leaders and key volunteers to consider how they can be involved in addressing the epidemic of mental illness in children and teens. Some of the  questions to be addressed will include…

  • What are some key facts that pastors, ministry leaders and influential church members need to know about children, teens and mental health?
  • How can faith leaders be a voice for compassion and care for youth struggling with mental illness?
  • Where can church leaders learn more about what they can do to address mental health among our youth?

Here’s how you can join us:

The easiest way to take part in the interactive conversation is to go to CrowdChat on the day of the event and enter the hashtag #Aid4YouthMH in the search box on top of the homepage. You can also follow the tweets by entering the hashtag in the search box on the top of your Twitter page.

Even if you’re unable to join us, you can help support the cause by sharing this post with your senior pastor and children’s, student or family ministry pastor or director, or by posting on your own social media platforms and sharing with friends.

Hope to chat with you on Tuesday, May 8th at 2:00 PM Eastern!

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Are you a pastor or ministry leader searching for resources to better understand how to support children, adults or families affected by mental illness in your church or in your community? Check out Key Ministry’s Mental Health Resources page, containing links to video, articles and topical blog series designed to help you minister with persons with common mental health conditions. Also available through the website are a free, downloadable mental health ministry planning tool designed to accompany Mental Health and the Church, along with links to recommended books, like-minded mental health ministry organizations, relevant research, sermons addressing mental illness, social media resources and a compilation of stories from families affected by mental illness.

 

Posted in Advocacy, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment