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A Model for Welcoming Children and Families Impacted by Mental Illness Into the Church


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This presentation, delivered at the 2017 Conference on Mental Health, Children, Youth and the Church, sponsored by Fresh Hope for Mental Health, introduces Key Ministry's model for churches seeking to pursue a mental health inclusion strategy.

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A Model for Welcoming Children and Families Impacted by Mental Illness Into the Church

  1. 1. A Model for Welcoming Children and Families Impacted by Mental Illness Into the Church Stephen Grcevich, MD President and Founder, Key Ministry Mental Health, Children, Youth and the Church Fresh Hope for Mental Health Omaha, Nebraska October 12, 2017
  2. 2. Building a bridge between two worlds…
  3. 3. A different way of thinking about mental health ministry How do we connect churches and families impacted by mental illness for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ? • Why mental illness is different from other disabilities • Why church participation is difficult • What would a mental health inclusion model for churches look like?
  4. 4. The mission field just beyond your door… Among U.S. children and teens… • 22% of children have at least one mental disorder • 21.4 percent of America’s teens will experience an episode of mental illness categorized as “severe” by age eighteen • 11% have been prescribed ADHD medication • 8-12% of teens experience anxiety disorders • One in 25 teens has had PTSD Source: National Institute of Mental Health
  5. 5. Why hasn’t the church embraced mental health inclusion ministry? • Stigmatization • Failure to recognize how attributes of common conditions limit church participation • We don’t have a ministry model
  6. 6. Is a disability a disability if someone is disabled some of the time?
  7. 7. How is mental illness different from other disabilities? • Episodic • Hidden • Situation-specific
  8. 8. Might the culture of the church and the environments in which we “do ministry” cause disability? “It is our culture that disables.” “When one is disabled, the problem is not really that they have impairments and social skill deficits. The issue at stake is that they live in an ‘ableist’ culture that rarely affords them the space or opportunity to make their unique contribution to society and does not lift up the value of choosing them as friends.” Ben Conner - Amplifying Our Witness (2012)
  9. 9. What gets in the way of church participation for families affected by mental illness?
  10. 10. Why is church involvement so difficult? • Attributes of common mental conditions cause difficulty functioning in common ministry environments. • Church culture – our expectations for how people should act when we gather together
  11. 11. Seven barriers to including families impacted by mental illness at church… • Stigma • Anxiety • Executive Functioning • Sensory processing • Social communication • Social isolation • Past experiences of church
  12. 12. Stigma as a barrier… WHAT THEN IS WRONG WITH THE “MENTALLY ILL?” THEIR PROBLEM IS AUTOGENIC; IT IS WITHIN THEMSELVES. Jay Adams • Mental illness defined as sin or a parenting problem • If it’s not a disability, why would disability ministry serve them? • Widespread perception they’re not welcome at church • Kids and adults DON’T want to be treated differently
  13. 13. Anxiety as a barrier… CORE DIFFERENCE: PEOPLE WITH ANXIETY MISPERCEIVE RISK IN UNFAMILIAR SITUATIONS • Social anxiety • Separation anxiety • Agoraphobia Fears specific to church: • Fear of scrutiny • Performance worries • Anxiety results from lack of faith
  14. 14. Executive Functioning as a barrier… COGNITIVE ABILITIES INVOLVED IN MODULATING OTHER ABILITIES AND BEHAVIORS • Behavioral inhibition • Verbal working memory • Non-verbal working memory • Emotional self- regulation • Reconstitution
  15. 15. Sensory processing as a barrier… PERSONS WITH SENSORY PROCESSING DIFFERENCES MAY EXPERIENCE AS AVERSIVE NOISE, LIGHT, TOUCH AND SMELLS THAT OTHERS FIND ENGAGING Challenges for kids: • Pick up and drop-off times • High energy worship • Aggression Challenges for adults: • Greeting times (hugging, handshakes) • High-energy worship • Multiple conversations in close proximity
  16. 16. Social communication as a barrier… WHAT CHALLENGES MIGHT SOMEONE ENCOUNTER AT CHURCH IF THEY STRUGGLE TO PICK UP ON SOCIAL CUES? • Body language • Tone, inflection of voice • Facial expressions Church-specific challenges: • Small groups • Small talk • Bullies • Unfamiliar situations
  17. 17. Social isolation as a barrier… HOW DO FAMILIES FIND YOUR CHURCH IF THEY LACK RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILIES ATTENDING YOUR CHURCH? • Kids seen as less desirable friends • Less involved in extracurriculars • Time, financial burdens of pursuing treatment • Lack of affordable child care leaves parents with fewer social outlets
  18. 18. Past experience of church as a barrier… THE APPLE OFTEN DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE! • Children of parents with bad (or no) church experiences aren’t going to church • Kids depend on parents for transportation • Parents struggle with mental health issues too! • Inconsistent attenders? • Mental health ministry with kids is FAMILY ministry!
  19. 19. What might an effective mental health inclusion strategy look like?
  20. 20. Seven strategies for promoting mental health inclusion (TEACHER) • Assemble your inclusion team • Create welcoming ministry environments. • Focus on ministry activities most essential to spiritual growth • Communicate effectively • Help families with their most heartfelt needs • Offer education and support • Empower your people to assume responsibility for ministry
  21. 21. Who needs a seat at the table? Building an inclusion team • Senior leadership • Ministry directors on church-wide implementation team • Ministry departments may have their own team • Consider gifts, talents, passions of church members, attendees
  22. 22. Welcoming ministry environments… • Promote focus, attention • Help attendees prioritize most important takeaways • Support those with difficulty processing directions. • Sensory stimulation engaging, not overwhelming • Supports kids in maintaining self-control
  23. 23. Inclusion in high-impact ministry activities What do you MOST want people to do to grow in faith? Prioritize that! • Weekend worship? • Small groups? • Prayer/family devotions/serving
  24. 24. Communicating about mental illness • Preach it from the pulpit! • Use of pictures, video • Printed materials • E-communication • Social media • Online church
  25. 25. Helping families with their most heartfelt needs… • Casseroles • Respite • Referral services • Counseling • Special worship services • After-school programs • Parent advocates for kids on 504 plans, in special education • Tutoring at-risk kids
  26. 26. Offering education and support • Fresh Hope • “Grace Groups” – individual, family, PTSD curriculums • NAMI Family to Family, Peer to Peer • Diagnosis-specific groups (CHADD)
  27. 27. Empowering your people to assume responsibility for ministry • Inviting • Responding to needs • Grabbing a mop • Relational respite • Business cards with respite invitations • 1:1 discipleship • Parent mentors • “Ministry of presence”
  28. 28. Key considerations for an effective mental health inclusion strategy… • Inclusion is a mindset – not a program • Buy-in from senior leadership is absolutely essential • A good strategy benefits everyone and doesn’t require anyone to self-identify • Consider creating a role for a mental health inclusion coordinator or “concierge” • Ministry is owned by the people, supported by church staff • No church will be able to include everyone with mental illness, but every church can welcome, serve and include more people with mental illness
  29. 29. Next Steps… • Join Key Ministry’s mental health inclusion ministry leaders group on Facebook • Join Mental Health and the Church book study roundtable (February, 2018) • Sign up for Church4EveryChild •
  30. 30. Key Ministry promotes meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Free training, consultation, support and resources What Does Key Ministry Do?
  31. 31. Stay in Touch! Key Ministry Website: Church4EveryChild…Key Ministry Blog: www!/drgrcevich!/KeyMinistry