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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK


Faith 'good for mental health'

A religious faith can ward off mental illness

Religious and spiritual belief can play a significant role in protecting people from mental health problems, according to the body responsible for health promotion in the UK.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan: "The reports calls for churches to do more for sufferers"
The Health Education Authority (HEA) is urging clergy of all faiths to take a more active role in helping people with mental illness and to take a lead in challenging the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Health professionals are also urged not to dismiss people's religious convictions as part of their illness, even if they encompass belief in controversial practices such as exorcism.

The HEA has produced a guide in collaboration with Christian and Jewish groups and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship that gives advice on ways of supporting people with mental health problems.

[ image:  ]
While the guide recognises that not everyone's experience of organised religion is positive, it states that many people, with or without mental health problems, find practical and emotional help and support from their faith.

Lynne Friedli, manager of the HEA's Mental Health Programme, said: "Religious belief and faith have a central place in many people's lives and this initiative will raise awareness of the important role that faith has in protecting people from mental ill health and helping them to deal better with problems when they do occur."

The guide covers a number of areas, including:

  • The type of help and support that can be offered by religious communities and ways of tackling stigma
  • The relationship between mental health professionals and their clients with religious beliefs
  • How faith can offer comfort, reassurance, guidance, support, a sense of belonging and can help to integrate people who have been ill into the community
  • Scriptural references, prayers, ideas for worship around mental health themes and a directory of where to obtain information, advice and training on mental health issues

Dr Lynne Friedli: "We're trying to encourage more partnerships between mental health professionals and spirtual leaders"
Religious groups are involved in mental health care in many different ways, including chaplaincy, pastoral visits and the provision of drop-in social facilities.

In addition, many voluntary agencies with a strong religious base provide mental health care and support.

'Stigma must be challenged'

Ms Friedli said: "Religious leaders have a duty to challenge stigma. As people with mental health problems are so often excluded from the workplace and other environments, it is important that churches, synagogues and other places of worship open their doors to everyone in the community.

[ image: Muslims: All faiths have been urged to act]
Muslims: All faiths have been urged to act
"It is also important for mental health professionals to recognise and acknowledge the religious and spiritual beliefs of their clients as an important alternative source of help and support."

Martin Aaron, chairman of the Jewish Association for the Mentally Ill (JAMI) and a member of the working party that produced the guidance, said clergy of all faiths needed training in what services were available to help mentally ill people.

He said: "Unfortunately, in the past, many clergy - whether they be a rabbi or a parish priest - when approached by people with a problem have not been very well equipped to deal with it.

"Not dealing with a problem with knowledge and training can have a detrimental effect."

Mr Aaron said in most cases clergy would be encouraged to adopt a twin-track approach, offering spiritual guidance and support, and referring on to a medical specialist.

A book, The Courage to Bare our Souls, is published at the same time as the guide. Produced by the Mental Health Foundation and written by mental health service users, it tells of the positive and negative impact that religion and spirituality has had on their lives.

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