Part 4: Nurturing Mental Health Ministry in Your Congregation

In our "Breaking the Silence" program, we suggest offering at least two opportunities for preaching and teaching on mental health throughout the calendar year. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and May is Mental Health Awareness Month - weekend services around this time may be an appropriate time for engagement, especially as it offers a chance to get involved with other efforts like a local Out of Darkness Walk in support of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Many have also created mental health ministries to further support their congregation throughout the entire year. What works for you will depend on your own unique circumstances, but any step in manifesting hope and healing is cause for praise and celebration. Below, we list several ideas on how to get started.

  1. Practice compassionate care that embodies the love of God as your religion understands it.
  2. Preach and teach on mental health topics.
  3. Respond to mental health crises the same way the congregation responds to any other health crisis. Visit the person at home or in the hospital, bring food, offer support, hold them in prayer, etc.
  4. Accompany people in need without trying to fix the problem. Learn how to listen without judgment.
  5. Learn to identify the signs of someone who is at risk of suicide and how you can help.
  6. Confront stigma by examining your own attitudes and preconceived beliefs about mental health challenges.
  7. Read and discuss your denomination's teachings on suicide and mental health (social messages, assembly actions, etc.). Find out what your denomination is doing to support the cause and see how you can get involved.
  8. Educate yourself and your congregation on mental illness and suicide.
  9. Participate in training opportunities.
  10. Emphasize God's unconditional love for all persons without exception. Validate everyone's worth as human beings and accentuate their identity as a child of God.
  11. Make room in the church for those who are "less than perfect."
  12. Host a book study on one of the books on our recommendations list.
  13. Form small groups of members and friends of your congregation, each with a designated leader, and contact each member a few times a month. Alternatively, broaden the role of your congregational care ministry so that members are contacted by several leaders - especially if they are at risk! Make special note of any who are vulnerable and reach out to help them connect to the community.
  14. Include area resources for mental health care in your community materials and bulletin boards. Make sure everyone knows about national and state hotlines like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 988. Know the resources in your area, including emergency rooms, counseling referrals, and local/state crisis support lines.
  15. Show up when it's uncomfortable. Learn how to be a non-anxious presence so that those in need can feel safe in voicing their pain and challenges.
  16. Have a "Mental Health" day at least once a year. Include litanies, prayers, and sermons that focus on mental health.
  17. Make sure that youth have a safe space in which to share their experiences with adults who have training in listening skills and mental health topics and can keep appropriate boundaries. 
  18. Special focus should be on protecting teenage girls. A recent Surgeon General's report indicates that emergency room visits in the U.S. for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for girls in 2021, but only 4% higher for boys, compared to the same period in 2019.
  19. Remember that anyone can experience shame, emptiness, and poor mental health. The congregation's role is to be a place of welcome, inclusion, and acceptance
  20. Create a safe space for people to tell their stories and share their journeys without judgment.
  21. Recognize the value of belonging in a loving, accepting community - and endeavor to be that community.
  22. Communicate the scriptures in a way that affirms the value of each person as God's beloved.
  23. Embrace the power of words and welcome. Is your congregation truly welcoming of all people? How do you actively convey that welcome? 
  24. Strive to be a congregation that values saving lives above all else.
  25. Train lay congregation members to be Stephen Ministers.
  26. Provide mental health training opportunities for ordained ministers.
  27. Put supports in place for those who might feel vulnerable during worship and need companionship.
  28. Provide space for a mental health support group or recovery group.
  29. Recognize the healing and community-shaping power in sharing of your rituals.
  30. Practice passing the peace with intention.
  31. Learn what not to say and what not to say to someone who is struggling or who is a survivor or family member.
  32. Participate in Companionship Training through Pathways to Promise (
  33. Become a "WISE" congregation, offered for all religious groups by our friends at United Church of Christ (
  34. Voice and hear prayer concerns for mental health challenges, and encourage prayer requests, including suicidality and self-harm.
  35. Work towards being a community that invites authenticity and openness. Encourage people to talk openly about their mental health challenges. Practice truth-telling and compassion.
  36. Reach out to those with mental health challenges, addictions, and trauma with the same care you reach out to those living with physical illness.
  37. From a congregational task force or ministry team.
  38. Join with other organizations - other denominations, nonprofits, mental health centers, etc. - and network with those in your community, participate in their events, and find opportunities to be in shared mission.
  39. Enter into mutual relationships with those who struggle. Strive to drop the roles of helper and recipient. Recognize how those with challenges can also help the congregation. Move from a position of providing service to empowerment and kinship.
  40. Strive towards helping those with mental health challenges feel welcomed, valued, supported, and included in the life, leadership, and work of the congregation.
  41. Find ways to celebrate even the smallest victories. Any step toward hope and healing is worth of praise and thanksgiving.
  42. Remain steadfast - starting such efforts takes more than passion, it also takes patience and persistence. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will succeed.
  43. Be attentive to what God is doing and how God is potentially leading you, even if it's an unexpected direction.


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