Monday, August 27, 2018

Pray the Crazy Away

Here in the buckle of belt the issues surrounding mental health, drug addiction and other issues connected to one's emotional well being are often relegated to prayer and a reliance on the Church.  I can safely say that there may well be Ministers and other members of a Church fully qualified to offer counseling and support services; however, most are not certified, trained and experience mental health providers.  And with the current state of medical care and insurance lacking for those too poor to have jobs that enable access all the availability is moot. And for many there is no availability for those in rural areas, the areas most affected by the opioid crisis.  Again this may also explain a reliance on guns and in turn Police to provide some quasi support via wellness checks and in turn offering a bullet or a jail to resolve the problem.  And this is again throughout America not just here in Tennessee, but we make it special as only we can.

I read this editorial below in the Tennessean and was surprised to see some honesty with regards to the limitation and role of the Clergy when it comes to mental health support.  I seriously wish more would realize this and in turn lobby for the State to extend Medicaid and in turn enable the poor to have access to some form of mental health counseling.  Another article in the same paper discussed how a mother wishes all schools had Psychologists to assist their children through their struggles. Trust me on this they would have a line up out the door if that was possible, I have never met children as damaged as these.  

The violence once again tops the chart as I arrived home to three different shootings and one death as a result spread out across the city over the weekend and Labor Day is just around the corner which is peek shooting time here in Music City.   And I point to the most racist inflammatory truly fake news site, Scoop Nashville, to those who would like to see how the citizens of Nashville spend their time.  It makes me wonder if Facebook is just a front for the Russian mob for if they monitor this they have a captive audience in which to manipulate.  We exploit the poor and in turn do little to stop the violence as it is a type of Social Darwinism that we are seeing play out in cities like Chicago, the city that has a reputation that extends beyond the lake as the largest percent of migrants into Nashville is Chicago.  That does not bode well for residents.

Clergy not prepared to meet congregations' mental health needs
Holly Meyer, Nashville Tennessean Published Aug. 27, 2018 |

Religious people tend to turn to clergy for help and support in times of trouble.

But when that trouble manifests as a mental health issue, odds are their pastor or rabbi is not well-equipped to respond effectively, said Jared Pingleton, a licensed clinical psychologist.

"They were trained in theology," said Pingleton, clinical director for the American Association of Christian Counselors.

"They're not trained to deal with that 2 o'clock call with a suicidal emergency," Pingleton said. "They're not trained to know how to care or cope with people who are in the throes of a serious depression controlled by an addictive substance or behavior or headed to a divorce lawyer."

More: When we have mental health crises, are our schools, churches or doctors offices prepared?

Mental health and relational issues can be complicated, costly and labor intensive, Pingleton said. And clergy members do not have the training nor do they have the time to give these types of crises the attention they need, he said.

That is the reality for the Rev. Jim Hughes, who leads Belle Meade United Methodist Church.

It is not that Hughes doesn't want to help his 400 or so church members, but he knows from 43 years of ministry experience that professional counselors are far more effective than he could ever be at addressing mental health issues.

"I tend to kind of limit myself to three conversations," Hughes said. "If whatever is going on with somebody can't be really addressed and gotten on a good path, if that can't be done in three, they need to be referred."

The stakes can be high for how pastors respond, too. An oblique or cursory response can leave someone feeling dismissed, intensifying a person's shame, Pingleton said. And a mental health crisis for someone who is suicidal can be a matter of life and death.

But strides are being made in the faith community on how to recognize and address mental health needs.

More and more, seminaries and Bible schools are introducing their students to mental health issues, Pingleton said. Churches, especially large, healthy and progressive congregations, are adding counseling staff to their ministry teams, he said.

Just 14 percent of churches have a counselor on staff trained in mental illness and 13 percent train leaders to recognize the signs, according to a 2014 LifeWay Research survey of Protestant pastors. Only 27 percent have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness.

Not nearly enough churches are adding counselors nor can they all afford to do so, but pastors still have the ability to move the needle in their church, Pingleton said.

Pastors need to preach about mental health, acknowledging the reality of the issues, Pingleton said. According to the LifeWay Research survey, 49 percent of pastors rarely or never speak about acute mental illness in sermons or large group messages.

Related: Extra duties limited school counselors' face time with students. A new rule is changing that.

Related: Teachers learn about mental health to help their students

"When there is a sermon about mental and relational health needs, that ends the silence, it eliminates the shame and it erases the stigma," Pingleton said.

Clergy members also need to build a list of trusted counseling professionals they can refer congregation members to in times of need, Pingleton said.

"They need to learn the art of making an effective referral," Pingleton said. "You need to make sure the parishioner or congregant isn't offended or feels rejected."
Belle Meade church has counseling center on-site

At Belle Meade United Methodist, Hughes has a resource list for moments when needs go beyond his abilities.

The church also opened its doors in the last year to a counseling center led by Chris O'Rear, a licensed clinical pastoral therapist. They see it as a ministry of the church, but it serves the wider community. The first visit is free for church members, and follow-ups are offered on a sliding scale. Hughes has already referred church members to it.

To offset the financial cost of therapy, the church received a grant to help seniors pay for it. The rent the counseling center pays the church goes into a fund to assist those who need financial help.

It is not just congregation members seeking help from the Belle Meade church, which is in an affluent part of the city and located on a bus line and major thoroughfare. Hughes receives calls and visits from those experiencing homelessness or those recently released from jail who are in need of help. Mental illness and addiction are present in both populations.

"Most clergy are not equipped. We're not. We might pretend like we are, but we're not," Hughes said. "We need these resources. We need to be able to put people in the right hands."

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