Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Peter Bellini: Global Mental Health and the Church, Part II

Today's piece is written by Rev. Dr. Peter J. Bellini, Assistant Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair and President's Associate for Global Partnerships at United Theological Seminary. It is the second in a three-part series.

In my previous post, I described the global scope of the problem of depression and other mental disorders. The problem of mental disorders is wide-spread and, especially in developing nations, often untreated. Yet the church can play a role in responding to this problem.

WHO claims the misconception is that many believe that amelioration of such mental health conditions requires sophisticated, highly specialized or expensive responses, which is not the case. The WHO goal is to increase the development of non-specialist healthcare providers through training, support, and supervision. The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) is part of the WHO’s comprehensive plan and strategy, which was adopted by the 66th World Health Assembly, for each country to develop non-specialist healthcare to supplement any existing specialized health care.[1] The plan seeks to create “more effective leadership and governance for mental health; the provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings; the implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention; and strengthened information systems, evidence and research.”[2]

The WHO along with other organizations are planning and executing strategies to tackle the global challenge of mental disorders. The church is also in the midst of the fray. The United Methodist Church has clear statements about the nature of the problem and has also strategized through its Boards (i.e. GBGM) and Agencies (i.e UMCOR) to address the crisis. The Book of Resolutions cites a lack of knowledge as a chief contributor to the problem. I would encourage our churches to become familiar with the statements on mental health from The Book of Discipline 2012, The Social Principles, and the Book of Resolutions 2012. These resources provide informed theological responses for the church to minister comprehensive healing to a broken world. These resources draw from the ministry of Jesus Christ, the model of John Wesley and the early Methodists, and the scientific and medical communities to shape a United Methodist theology and practice of healing.[3]

One such example is the United Methodist Mental Illness Network of "Caring Communities” developed by the General Board of Church and Society. According to Mental Health Ministries, #3303, Book of Resolutions 2012, global United Methodists are invited to join the Caring Communities program that unites congregations and communities in covenant relationship with persons with mental illness and their families to educate and help remove the stigma around mental health issues.[4] Caring Communities “Educate congregations and the community in public discussion about mental illness and work to reduce the stigma experienced by those suffering. Covenant to understand and love persons with mental illness & their families. Welcome persons and their families into the faith community. Support persons with mental illness and their families through providing awareness, prayer, and respect. Advocate for better access, funding and support for mental health treatment and speak out on mental health concerns.”[5]

The theological statement on mental illness from the Book of Resolution 2012 stresses education as the key to opening the door to healing and wholeness, and the Caring Communities program models this type of education. The statement also specifically calls our seminaries to train clergy to educate and equip congregations and communities to minister with those impacted by mental disorders.[6] At United Theological Seminary where I teach, I designed a course entitled “Renewal Ministry and Practice” that focuses on a comprehensive theology and practice of healing and wholeness. Students learn to construct theologies of healing and wholeness as modeled in Scripture and the history of the church. Students also engage in “labs” that challenge them to put their theology to practice in situation in their local contexts.

In my final post on this topic, I will offer 10 insights on healing from that course that can be contexualized and implemented in most settings, insights that can help guide United Methodists around the world who are seeking to develop their own responses to the problem of depression and other mental disorders.

[1] WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP), http://www.who.int/mental_health/mhgap/en/

[2] WHO Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020. http://www.who.int/mental_health/action_plan_2013/en/.

[3] http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness The United Methodist Church website offers the entire theological statement of the church on ministries in mental illness from the Book of Resolutions 2012.

[5] Faith and Mental Health Bulletin Insert, 2013. http://umc-gbcs.org/resources-websites/creating-caring-congregations

[6] Book of Resolutions 2012, Theological Statement on Ministries in Mental Illness from United Methodist Church website. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/ministries-in-mental-illness

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