01/21/2014 12:13 EST | Updated 03/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Do You Suffer From Mental Illness? Turning To Religion May Help

Let's make use of our churches in providing care for the mentally ill. Churches have been a refuge for hundreds of years. For many of us, places of worship are perfect for assisting in the care of the mentally ill because sometimes all one needs is someone to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a cup of tea, or a quiet place. Spiritual care is available to all, rich or poor, religious or not. And the infrastructure is already in place.

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The church of St Philip and St James reflects on the frozen river Neris in Vilnius, Lithuania on January 21, 2014 as temperatures dropped to -18 degrees Celsius. AFP PHOTO / PETRAS MALUKAS (Photo credit should read PETRAS MALUKAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Reyal Jardine-Douglas, Sylvia Klibingaitis, Michael Eligon, Michael MacIsaac, and Sammy Yatim are all dead.

The 2013 Mobile Crisis Team Coordination Steering Committee Report, MCIT Program Coordination in the City of Toronto acknowledges that it's important to recognize that mental illness is not, in and of itself, a police problem. Officers may have assumed the role of "street-corner psychiatrists" by default.

When police are the response to the mentally ill it screams our failure at protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens.

According to Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, one in six Canadians has a mental illness. Dr. Ian Dawe, physician-in-chief at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services in Whitby, Ontario, has expressed his concern over the lack of professionals who can provide counselling. "This study really speaks to unmet needs outside of the medication realm, and I think that's very consistent with what we're hearing," he said.

Camille Quenneville, chief executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Ontario division says there's a tremendous need for mental health care services in the community and hospital systems.

While we attempt to increase the number of therapists, we must take advantage of facilities that are available now. Studies from mental healthcare providers show that religious involvement is related to better coping with stress and less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse.

The American College of Graduate Medical Education mandates in its Special Requirements for Residency Training for Psychiatry (Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, 1994) for psychiatrists to receive some training in religious and spiritual factors because of their influence in mental health care.

Harold G. Koenig, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Duke University has written about the positive connection between religion and psychological health.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry acknowledges the importance of religion and spirituality in mental health care for young people.

As a chaplain I was trained to work with specialists in the psycho-social sciences to provide care to patients with mental health concerns, concerns that delayed wellness. I live well now because of the psycho-social and spiritual care I received when I was suicidal.

According to the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services: "More than 700 studies have investigated the relationship of religion and mental health, with nearly 500 demonstrating a positive association between the two. Various investigations have shown religious involvement to be positively correlated with well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, hope, optimism, purpose and meaning in life, higher self-esteem, greater social support and less loneliness, lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes toward suicide, less anxiety, less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies, lower rates of alcohol and drug use/abuse, less delinquency and criminal activity, and greater marital stability and satisfaction."

Dr. Marilyn Baetz, professor and head of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan and co-author of a study published April 2013 wrote about the connection between religion and mental wellness: "From the believers' perspective, they have recourse to divine assistance (even a personal relationship in Christian traditions) and thus are less likely to feel alone with the vicissitudes of life." She added:

"It gives a sense of meaning and purpose that's difficult to measure but it's an important component of feeling wholeness in life -- people feeling like they have something to live for."

California Mental Health and Spirituality Initiative was established in June 2008 at the Center for Multicultural Development at the California Institute for Mental Health. Advocate Jay Mahler explained:

"For many people with mental health issues, spirituality is key to understanding this experience. It is essential in their journey of recovery. Also faith communities have provided a sense of belonging and welcome to me, and to others who have been marginalized and experienced stigma and discrimination resulting from the public's fear of persons with psychiatric diagnoses."

So let's make use of our churches in providing care for the mentally ill. Katherine Welby, the daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, revealed her fight with depression, and she is part of a programme to help others.

"Churches are in a unique position in that you have a church in every community. We are in an absolutely unique position and we see it as our calling to be a resource to those communities."

Churches have been a refuge for hundreds of years; most recently caring for people with HIV/AIDS, and the homeless, many of whom have a mental illness. Whether one is Christian or not, or even religious in any way, churches are places of serenity, security and sanctuary where you will find someone who will listen without judging. Mental illness, especially depression can come with generalized fear and anxiety, as well as hopelessness and helplessness. And for many of us, as Jay Mahler said, places of worship are perfect for assisting in the care of the mentally ill because sometimes all one needs is someone to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a cup of tea, or a quiet place.

Many clergy are educated in providing first line care of the mentally ill. Francis Davis wrote in early October 2013 about the problems with mental health care in England. He wrote in the Guardian that faith leaders must speak up for people with mental health problems.

"Thus, for all my campaigning for public faith over two decades it is clear that as a new generation of religious leaders comes into post, a sense of perspective and urgency needs to return. Faith in the public square is not the priority -- practical care of this most fragile of groups in private is. This is more than just a call for social benefits. It is an exhortation for a change in advocacy ... For if the new generation of religious leaders, claiming public virtue for their own institutions, will not reach out to those with severe mental ill health and their carers who are home alone, then who will?"

A survey of 406 patients with persistent mental illness at a Los Angeles County mental health facility found that more than 80 per cent used religion to cope.

Spiritual care is available to all, rich or poor, religious or not.

And the infrastructure is already in place.


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