Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network
Frequently Asked Questions
How to set up a Mental Health Ministry in a Congregation
First, start by understanding that mental health challenges are a part of everyone’s life - yet experienced and expressed in a multitude of ways. Given this, we need to consider how congregations effectively set up and lead a mental health ministry that truly honors each individual’s unique mental health journey towards wellness. It needs to recognize the wide diversity of mental experiences, understanding their causes, treatments, and research, that is continually evolving.
The UU Mental Health Network will seek to make available approaches that have been helpful and make them available as resources for congregations.
In the book Held – Showing Up for Each Other’s Mental Health, by Barbara F. Meyers, Skinner House 2020, on pages 63-77 there is a description of how to set up a mental health ministry in a congregation. Briefly, the steps are as follows, with the first 4-5 steps to be done first:
Getting support of minister and lay leadership
Create a covenant for how members will engage and treat each other respectfully.
Giving worship services on mental health
Offer educational programs on mental health. The book Held has a study guide that can be used for this purpose. Note: There is no assumption that psychiatric diagnoses will be used as a basis for education.
Religious education for children with mental health challenges
Offer support groups to run or refer people to
Create a referral list
Create a companioning program
Engage in mental health advocacy
Handling a situation involving Mental Health difficulty in a congregation.
These situations could manifest themselves in a multitude of ways; a person who isolates themselves, a person who is agitated, a person who discloses their situation and asks for help, a person who is seriously depressed, a person who acts out, etc. The most helpful attitude to take is to first try and develop a heart-felt relationship with the individual(s) involved in the situation. Emotional CPR and Companioning are two approaches that have this focus. It may take time and planning to get people trained.
An initial contact with someone from the UU Mental Health Network may help to understand the options and what would be most helpful. You can do this by sending a request to email@example.com
Setting up Mental Health First Aid Trainings
The UU Mental Health Network doesn't handle setting up MHFA trainings for congregations.
Here is a link to the MHFA organization's program for faith communities:
How to find Mental Health Advocates
First, determine why you are looking for an “advocate” - Some examples of the massive diversity of advocacy needs are the following:
1 - Parents with kids experiencing emotional distress may need to become better informed about special education services - Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy (especially ‘yellow pages for kids’).
2 - Advocacy groups for BIPoC and LGBTQIA+ community members.
3 - There is no centrally organized listing for disability-specific advocates - folks will need to search based on “mental health” or the specific disability they want advocacy for. The UU Mental Health Network board member Sandy Goodwick has worked in this area for decades. You can request a contact with her at firstname.lastname@example.org
4 - Aging presents its own challenges - especially for folks in assisted living, nursing homes, etc. There are regional, state and national ombudsmen programs that can answer many questions. The Long Term Care Ombuds is an advocate.
5 - Folks “in the system” that need an ombudsman may be able to access one via checking up on their ‘patients’ rights’ information. This is very complex depending on the location, the local and state government, the ways to file grievances, etc. What is available varies widely depending on the location.
You may want to consider talking with a librarian who can help you access advocacy resources.
Local mental health advocates can be searched for online looking for “mental health advocates <city name>”. The kinds of contacts that you may find are:
A local or county Mental Health Association
A consumer advocacy organization. Our Recovery Movement Advocate will be developing resources.
A chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can sometimes be helpful, but they vary widely depending on the location.
Behavioral health system in your local community.There are multiple levels of behavioral health in every community - and the support you can get depends on what health insurance you have.
You may also be interested in the Facebook group Mental Health Justice UU.
You can find many resources by selecting the RESOURCES menu tab.
We are in the process of getting our processes in place to have a list of potential speakers. If you would like to have a speaker on mental health, please contact us at email@example.com and we will see if we can line up a speaker.
Mental Health Professional Referrals
The UU Mental Health Network doesn't make referrals for professional mental health care. You will want to start working through your own health insurance provider. We encourage congregations to create their own referral lists for therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health programs in their community, based on the recommendations from their parishioners. The most effective way we’ve seen this done is after offering a worship service on mental health, and asking congregants for names of therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health programs that they would be willing to refer to a fellow congregant. A confidential referral list can be created like
this quite quickly.
It is also important to consider non-traditional routes for support. Examples are getting support: from peer warm lines, from websites such as madinamerica.com, online articles that address finding support when folks cannot get support elsewhere.
There is a very helpful site for BIPOC people at https://dmhsus.org/ It brings anti-racist therapists & wellness practitioners together to address the mental health system’s racial and financial inequities. Free therapy sessions are offered there.
Mental Health pastoral care
Members of a congregation who have mental health issues should have the same access to pastoral care as any other member of the congregation. Ordinarily, what this looks like is to have a couple of sessions between the minister and a congregant, and if there are issues that emerge requiring more work, there would be a referral to some other therapist / pastoral counselor / peer who can work with them more deeply on their situation.
How to get involved
There are many opportunities to get involved. Go to the Join menu for learning about how you might get involved as a beloved member.
Requests for money and prayers
Prayers we can offer, but we don't have money to give out. We plan to eventually have a list of mental health-related prayers that we can point to on the website.