Caring well for persons with mental health struggles in our churches

The past six months have presented extraordinary challenges to the church – not the least of which has been caring for all of the people who are hurting as a result of social and economic disruptions associated with the coronavirus.

Last month, the CDC released a report describing mental health challenges experienced by U.S. adults during COVID-19. The statistics presented below represent a a four-fold increase in the prevalence of depressive symptoms and a three-fold increase in the prevalence of anxiety symptoms compared to a similar time in 2019. Rates of suicidal ideation in the preceding thirty days were more than double than reported in 2018.

Overall, 40.9% of 5,470 respondents who completed surveys during June reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including those who reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), those with TSRD symptoms related to COVID-19 (26.3%), those who reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%), and those who reported having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days (10.7%)

Among some demographics, the numbers are truly staggering.

  • 74.9% of 18-24 year-olds and 51.9% of 25-44 year-olds reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom, as well as 52.1% of Hispanic respondents, 54.0% of essential workers, 66.2% who held less than a high school diploma and 66.6% of unpaid caregivers for adults at the time of the survey.
  • Essential workers had a 42% higher prevalence of mental health symptoms than non-essential workers, and adult caregivers were over 2.5 times more likely to report symptoms than non-caregivers.
  • One in four adults between the ages of 18-24 and 16% of adults ages 25-44 reported seriously considering suicide in the past thirty days. These numbers were 15.1% for Blacks, 18.6% for Hispanics, 21.7% for essential workers and 30.7% for unpaid caregivers of adults.
  • 21.9% of Hispanics, 24.7% of essential workers and 32.9% of unpaid adult caregivers started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

You wouldn’t know from the title, but our team has pulled together some remarkable resources for pastors and church leaders interested in supporting the emotional well-being of their people under the banner of our upcoming Online Pastors’ Retreat (OPR). Here’s a sneak preview of some of the content being made available under the banner of the OPR.

Heather Sells (CBN News) will interview prominent pastors and ministry leaders who discuss their personal experiences with mental health and share their observations about the best ways to minister to those navigating mental and emotional health issues. Guests include Dr. Jack Graham (Prestonwood Baptist Church), Amy Simpson (Author of Troubled Minds), Joe Padilla, (Mental Health Grace Alliance), Brad Hoefs, Founder of Fresh Hope for Mental Health and Dylan Dodson, (New City Church, Raleigh, NC). In a separate presentation, Pastor Dodson discusses practical strategies for walking through tragedies with people in your church.

Brad Hambrick (Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC) will be discussing how to use the Bible effectively with someone who has experienced trauma. His presentation has been designed for anyone who provides pastoral care with victims of abuse, first responders (police officers, medical professionals, etc.), persons serving in the military or couples who have lost a child.

Ben O’Dell (Mental Health Liaison for the HHS Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives) will introduce the Partnership Center’s Compassion in Action Guide – a compendium of resources, “best practices,” and innovative services to help pastors and other church staff to address mental illness in their churches and communities. The guide presents seven key principles to implementation of mental health support.

Evan Owens (Reboot Recovery) will be sharing a presentation for pastors and church leaders designed to help those who minister with first responders and their loved ones assist them in healing from the moral and spiritual wounds associated with service-related trauma during a time in which COVID-19, civil unrest and a barrage of economic challenges have pushed many heroes to the brink

Dr. Matthew Stanford  (Hope and Healing Institute, Houston TX) will be providing an overview of their Gateway to Hope (GTH) training – an interactive, evidence-based, mental health awareness training and education program offered online free of charge to interested churches. GTH training equips pastors, ministry staff, and volunteers to identify mental health problems early, refer distressed individuals to professional care, offer evidence-based psychoeducational services on site, and provide a therapeutic community to support recovery. He will discuss how churches might use the training to enhance their ability to minister to those living with serious mental illness and their families.

We’re blessed to be able to share these resources, along with a comprehensive series of videos on developing a mental health inclusion strategy and interventions common among mental health-friendly churches. They accompany an extensive series of resources of self-care for pastors and church staff that compose the “retreat” portion of the OPR. We were blown away by the the willingness of so many prominent church leaders to contribute their time and wisdom to the retreat. Some of the speakers and their topics include:

Kay WarrenTruth, Sorrow and Hope in Mental Illness

Pete Scazzaro – The Emotionally Healthy Pastor

William VanderbloemenRebuilding Your Broken World

Michael Lyles, MDHow to be a Mary in a Martha World

More speakers and content will be announced throughout this week. The content and interactive discussions will be initially be made available on October 5-7, but all resources will be available for years to come. There’s no expiration date for access to the OPR.

Thanks to our partners at Amplify Social Media, the OPR is being made available at a very modest cost. Click here to learn more about the retreat, or here if you’re ready to register.

We’d love for you to learn more about caring for the people of your church who are hurting while getting yourself and your ministry colleagues support for your own mental health and the mental health of your family during a challenging season of ministry.


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.





About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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