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Why Church is Difficult for Families Affected by Mental Illness


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In this presentation from the 2018 Wonderfully Made conference, Dr. Grcevich discusses common obstacles to church participation for families of children with common mental health conditions.

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Why Church is Difficult for Families Affected by Mental Illness

  1. 1. Why Church is Difficult for Families Affected by Mental Illness Stephen Grcevich, MD Child and Adolescent Psychiatry President and Founder, Key Ministry Presented at Wonderfully Made Conference Grace Church, Overland Park, Kansas October 26, 2018
  2. 2. Building a bridge between two worlds…
  3. 3. Who’s missing from your church? • Children with depression are 1.73 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 learning disabilities are 1.36 times more likely to never attend church. • Kids with ADD/ADHD are 1.19 times more likely to never attend church. Whitehead AL. J Scientific Study Religion 2018;57(2)377-395.
  4. 4. A perception we need to overcome among outsiders
  5. 5. 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?
  6. 6. How is mental illness different from other disabilities? • Often episodic • Hidden • Situation-specific
  7. 7. Can someone be “disabled” at church and function well in other life activities?
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. Meet the Phillips Family… How would your church serve them? • Josh is “neurotypical.” His friend from school invited him to your VBS. Josh had a great time and wants to come every Sunday. • Jennifer (daughter) struggles with separation anxiety • Tammy (mother) has social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia What challenges might they face the first time they attend a weekend worship service at your church?
  10. 10. Why hasn’t the church embraced mental health inclusion ministry? • Stigmatization • Failure to recognize how the presence of common mental health conditions might limit church participation • Variable levels of understanding of mental illness among pastors, church leaders • We don’t have a ministry model
  11. 11. What might an effective mental health inclusion strategy look like?
  12. 12. A foundation for a mental health inclusion ministry model • Recognition of how non-essential attributes of our ministry environments and practices interfere with participation for children and adults with common mental health conditions • Implementing a set of strategies across your ministry environments to help individuals and families join activities most critical for spiritual growth.
  13. 13. What gets in the way of church participation for families affected by mental illness?
  14. 14. Seven barriers to including families impacted by mental illness at church… • Stigma • Anxiety • Capacity for self- discipline-executive functioning • Sensory processing differences • Necessary social communication skills • Social isolation • Past experiences of church
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. Capacity for self-control 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
  18. 18. One parent’s lament… “People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”
  19. 19. 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
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. Social isolation as a barrier… HOW DO FAMILIES FIND YOUR CHURCH IF THEY DON’T CONNECT WITH FAMILIES ATTENDING YOUR CHURCH? • Kids seen as less desirable friends • Less involved in extracurricular activities • Time, financial burdens of pursuing treatment • Lack of affordable child care leaves parents with fewer social outlets
  22. 22. 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?
  23. 23. How might we help individuals and families affected by mental illness become more active in our churches?
  24. 24. 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
  25. 25. 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
  26. 26. What might our planning process look like? • Leaders in each ministry area might identify potential barriers, useful strategies within their area of responsibility. • An alternate approach might be to focus on a strategy (or several strategies) and implement the strategy across your ministry departments or environments. • Assigning responsibility for the plan (or components of the plan) with deadlines for implementation important.
  27. 27. Using the ministry planning tool…
  28. 28. Key considerations for an effective mental health inclusion strategy… • Mental health inclusion is a mindset – not a program • A good strategy benefits everyone and doesn’t require anyone to self-identify • 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. Mental Health Ministry is Family Ministry!
  30. 30. Defining the “win” • Your ministry achieves a win when any family member of someone with mental illness has a meaningful encounter with your church. • Persons with mental illness have spouses, parents, sons, daughters, siblings who need churches too! • Mental health ministry and foster care/adoption ministry go hand-in-hand
  31. 31. Taking the Next Step…Together
  32. 32. The First Step… • Senior pastors • Pray for discernment • Pursue buy-in from staff, board • Church staff, volunteers • Approach senior leadership for support, guidance • Developing a personal ministry • Respect church leaders • “Be the church” where you’ve been planted
  33. 33. 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?
  34. 34. Coming Alongside Your Ministry
  35. 35. Help from Key Ministry • Training • Conferences • Video training • Book study • Consultation • Available to church teams • Resources • Networking with other ministries • Social media, sermon videos, research to support your ministry • Support
  36. 36. Connect with Key Ministry • • Twitter: @KeyMinistry • •