NAMI FaithNet is an interfaith resource network of NAMI members, friends, clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to encourage faith communities who are welcoming and supportive of persons and families living with mental illness.
NAMI FaithNet strives to encourage welcoming, caring congregations as well as to promote the vital role of spirituality in the recovery journeys of many who live with mental health conditions, those for whom faith is a key component.
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 inspire faith communities about mental illness and the vital role spirituality plays in recovery for many.
NAMI FaithNet is not a religious network but includes an effort to outreach to all religious organizations.
NAMI Bridges of Hope Presentation
The purpose of Bridges of Hope is to educate faith communities about mental illness so that they can create stronger safety nets and welcoming communities of faith for people affected by mental illness.
Bridges of Hope is a PowerPoint presentation, about 30 minutes in length, with speaker’s notes. The timing depends on the speaker’s pace and amount of dialogue that is encouraged by the facilitator. It can be used in its entirety, or in sections, depending on the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter, and time allotment. The main sections include:
- Section I – What is mental illness? How does it impact individuals, families, and communities?
- Section II – What is the role of the faith community in helping people and families touched by serious mental illness?
- Section III – Who is NAMI and what does it offer to individuals, families and faith communities?
- Request a presentation today.
How to Be Inclusive and Welcoming
Faith and spirituality can be a very helpful component of someone’s recovery from mental illness. A place of worship is a safe space for people where they can feel welcomed and have an instant sense of support and community, but how they are treated within this environment is crucial to that feeling of security. Here are a few guidelines to follow in order to include someone living with mental illness into your congregation:
- Always keep in mind that a person living with a mental illness is a person first. Never define them by their illness.
- Check-in with the person or their family. Do not assume that the person wants to be included. A person might feel strongly about maintaining their privacy. If that’s the case you can continue to check-in with them because what they need later may change.
- Ask them what would be the most helpful. They may have a certain kind of help in mind that they could use from the congregation, so it may be beneficial to ask.
- Invite the family to sit with you at church services and events.
- Making an effort to talk to them and show that you care and understand. People living with mental illness often feel isolated and talking with them alone can make a difference.
- Instead of trying to fix their problems, just listen. Many people just need to be heard, taking the time to listen to someone will show that you care without having to come up with a solution for them.
- Don’t belittle someone’s mental illness. Everyone has occasional anxiety, depression, or some small form of a mental health condition, but this is not the same thing as living with a mental health condition. Don’t tell someone that everyone goes through what they’re going through, or that you know exactly how they feel. Also, if someone is expressing their problems, never tell them to ‘suck it up,’ it is hurtful and shows that you don’t care how they are feeling.
- Offer to pray with them and for them. With their permission, add them to the prayer list. Showing them that they are in your thoughts and prayers.
- Offer a place to belong, a small spiritual support/fellowship group. Having a network of supportive friends can make a huge difference to someone living with a mental illness.
- Offer to cook a meal, run an errand or any other helpful task. If a person is going through a hard time you can help them while simultaneously showing that you care.
- Plan a home visit. Mental illness can sometimes prevent people from leaving their home, which may make them feel even further isolated. Having someone come to their home and interact with them can significantly uplift their mood and spirit. They will become more comfortable with you and therefore the congregation you represent.
- Learn about mental health. The topic of mental health is often avoided and considered taboo to talk about. Be open about learning more without joking about it or using insensitive language.
- Invite local mental health leaders to speak with your congregation. Stigma often comes from a lack of understanding. If the entire congregation can learn about mental illness from a NAMI leader or other mental health leader, they may be more likely to feel comfortable welcoming and interacting with community members who live with a mental health condition.
- Learn to recognize symptoms.
- Convey a message of acceptance and compassion.
Tips For How to Help a Person with Mental Illness
Because 1 in 5 Americans lives with a mental health condition, you likely encounter people with a mental illness in your family or in your daily life. However, if you are unsure of how best to approach someone who may be struggling, these tips may help.
Suggestions on how you may approach someone living with a mental health condition:
- Talk to them in a space that is comfortable, where you won’t likely be interrupted and where there are likely minimal distractions.
- Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.
- Be sure to speak in a relaxed and calm manner.
- Communicate in a straightforward manner and stick to one topic at a time.
- Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Yes, some days are certainly more challenging than others. I understand.”
- Instead of directing the conversation at them with ‘you’ statements, use ‘I’ statements instead.
- Be a good listener, be responsive and make eye contact with a caring approach.
- Ask them appropriate questions and avoid prying.
- Give them the opportunity to talk and open up but don’t press.
- Share some easy insights as a way of encouraging easy conversation, such as comments about the weather, the community or other.
- Reduce any defensiveness by sharing your feelings and looking for common ground.
- Speak at a level appropriate to their age and development level. Keep in mind that mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence.
- Be aware of a person becoming upset or confused by your conversation with them.
- Show respect and understanding for how they describe and interpret their symptoms.
- Genuinely express your concern.
- Offer your support and connect them to help if you feel that they need it. Ask, “How can I help?” if appropriate, or even, “Can I pray with you now?” if appropriate.
- Give the person hope for recovery, offer encouragement and prayers.
Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Just pray about it.”
- “You just need to change you’re attitude.”
- “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”
- “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”
- “You have the same illness as my (whoever).”
- “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”
Things to Avoid Doing:
- Criticizing blaming or raising your voice at them.
- Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.
- Showing any form of hostility towards them.
- Assuming things about them or their situation.
- Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.
- Patronizing them or saying anything condescending.