How Faith Communities Respond to Stigma

Jun 3, 2021

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people experiencing mental health concerns often turn first to a faith leader. These leaders, as well as fellow community members, can play an important role in encouraging people to reach out for help and talk about their mental challenges.

Churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are where people feel connected and safe. Providing resources and guidance about treatment and working with families in crisis are common roles clergy and religious leaders take on every day.

Mental Health Ministries ( is an interfaith web-based ministry to provide educational resources to help erase the stigma of mental illness in our faith communities. They report that one in four persons attending a religious service has a family member struggling with mental health issues.

On Wednesday, June 23 at noon, The Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition will host a Facebook Live event titled State of Stigma and Mental Health: Proactive and Progressive Ways Religious Communities are Addressing the Mental Health Crisis. The event is free and open to all community members.

“The leadership of our faith communities have a major responsibility to actively create a climate where members can feel okay about seeking help for mental health issues, especially with us having gone through this pandemic,” Max Donatelli, Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition founding member, said. “Thankfully we know of some who are, and we will be featuring them during the Facebook Live session.”

The regular Facebook live events bring together experts from the mental health field and broader community to share information and about mental health topics and efforts to reduce stigma.

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein of the Congregation Shir Shalom said people are still reluctant to discuss mental health openly and faith communities can reduce the stigma by talking more about it and normalizing it.

“I just provide them an opening to come forward to discuss it with me,” Rabbi Alex said. “We also have the aid of our Jewish Family Services with a whole complement of counselors.” He suggests people can support each other with mental health issues by treating it like any health ailment.

“A congregant recently told me they were considering saying they had a medical ailment and not a mental health challenge,” Rabbi Alex said. “They felt they would be treated with more sympathy if they did so. This comment said it all.”

St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo established a Mental Health Committee in 1998 when several parishioners said in a survey that those with mental illness were not being assisted by current ministries. The mission of this committee is to create an environment of hope, understanding, welcome, and compassion to increase the acceptance of all individuals and families affected by mental health concerns. Members work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, educate about mental health and services available in the community, provide an alternative prayer service, and advocate for systemic change and legislation.

“We have had educational presentations, educational inserts for the bulletin and we offer a monthly service to those who may not want to attend the large church service or the longer service.” Kathy Aman, a representative of the Mental Health Committee, said. “The service we offer is a Faith Sharing and Eucharistic Service and the group has become regular and beneficial to all attendees.”

For faith communities looking to expand their outreach and education, resources are available to assist religious leaders and congregations help individuals and families receive mental health support. Training and education can encourage people to talk about mental illness and guide family and friends to treatment.

Mental Health First Aid is a public education program that can help individuals in the community understand mental illnesses, support timely intervention, and save lives.

Offered by several Anti-Stigma Coalition member agencies, this eight-hour course teaches individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training provides skills needed to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis.

Click here to learn about local training opportunities.

Another resource is NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) FaithNet, ( an interfaith resource network of NAMI members, friends, clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to encourage faith communities to welcome and support persons and families living with mental illness.

NAMI FaithNet strives to encourage welcoming, caring congregations and to promote the vital role of spirituality in the recovery journeys of many who live with mental health conditions, especially those for whom faith is a key component of their lives.

Through this website and through efforts nationally and in local communities, NAMI and NAMI affiliates encourage an exchange of information, tools, and other resources which will help educate and to inspire faith communities to take action, and the vital role spirituality can play in recovery for many.

“Talking about mental health issues openly in and of itself allows people to feel less stigmatized by having a diagnosis. I think education is also critical for people to understand and have less fear (for themselves or of others).”

Kathy Aman

St. Joseph University Parish, Mental Health Committee

One in four persons attending a religious service has a family member struggling with mental health issues.

Mental Health Ministries

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