Author: Deputy Tammy Pallot

1 in 4 adults experienced a mental illness in the past year

1 in 20 adults experience serious mental illness each year

1 in 20 adults had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year

1.6 million adults attempted suicide in the past year.

48.7 million people (17.3%) aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder in the past year

1 in 6 youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year

1 in 8 adolescents aged 12 to 17 had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year

1 in 25 adolescents attempted suicide in the past year

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14

Over 50,000 people died by suicide in 2023, the highest suicide rate on record

107,543 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2023

1 person dies by suicide every 11 minutes in the United States

The data is shocking. Behind these numbers are real people – our loved ones, friends, and colleagues who are struggling and losing their lives to preventable causes. The Church’s silence about mental health can be deafening to those who are suffering.

The Church often acts as the first line of defense by providing support and resources for those who are struggling. Studies show that among religious people seeking treatment, approximately 25% turn to a member of the clergy first for help. We must equip our clergy with the necessary skills to identify signs and symptoms of mental health issues and to respond effectively to these indicators. In an effort to do so, General Convention 80 directed the Task Force on Individuals with Mental Illness to develop a comprehensive curriculum for clergy in mental health awareness. This curriculum includes pastoral and spiritual care and the ability to discern concerns for the individual, family, the community, and the clergyperson. The curriculum can be found in the vBinder in the document “Outline for Curriculum to Train and Educate Clergy in Ministry Related to Mental Health and Mental Illness” as part of resolution A074. It addresses not only issues related to individuals with mental health challenges but also unique situations that clergy members may encounter, such as managing the congregation’s response to a mental health event and balancing the spiritual and psychological needs of individuals, families, and the congregation. While the curriculum is comprehensive, the biennium did not provide enough time to refine or launch it. Resolution A074 will allow us to complete this valuable work.

The Task Force was also mandated to create a group of resources to equip the clergy and laity to interact in compassionate, competent ways with those experiencing mental health challenges. These one-page documents focus on the most common mental health issues and contain not only best practices but also prayers, hymns, and scripture. These resources can now be found in the Blue Book. However, due to insufficient funding and the absence of an Interim Body to oversee this work, there is currently no efficient way to make these resources easily accessible to the broader Church.

The Task Force’s third task was recruiting and training regional Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructors. Mental Health First Aid is a comprehensive course that equips participants with the skills to assist those developing mental health problems or experiencing a mental health crisis. With the evidence-based practices provided by this program, individuals can actively contribute towards building mental health literacy and better respond to signs of mental illness. Having a group of specially trained instructors will make it possible to offer MHFA training throughout the Provinces of the Episcopal Church, thereby reaffirming our commitment to promoting mental wellness and creating a compassionate, inclusive community.

Eleven individuals from 8 Provinces underwent training as Adult Mental Health First Aid Instructors in October 2023. Each instructor committed to providing a minimum of 3 courses per year for five years. This commitment enables our 11 instructors to offer this resource to 5,000 people at parishes, clergy groups, dioceses, and community organizations throughout the Episcopal Church.

Although these instructors are dedicated and willing to travel, it is not feasible for 11 people to provide MHFA to the entire Episcopal Church. Resolution A076, Strengthening of Churchwide Training in Mental Health First Aid, will authorize and allocate funds to train additional Mental Health First Aid instructors. Over the next triennium, this resolution will enable the training of 14-16 addition instructors in Adult MHFA, 14 – 16 instructors in Youth MHFA, and 14 -16 instructors in Teen-2-Teen MHFA, which teaches teens how to recognize and respond to other teens having a mental health issue.

The goal is to have trained 69,000 laity, 4,000 compensated clergy, and 2,400 deacons in Mental Health First Aid by 2033. With adequate funding, this program has the potential to save thousands of lives. In addition to expanding our current MHFA instructor team, A076 also allocates funds to cover the instructors’ travel and material expenses. Typically, MHFA instructors charge up to $2,000 to provide the training; our instructors offer this service for free. The only charge for MHFA in the Episcopal Church is the cost of materials ($25/person) and travel expenses. Supporting the travel costs will allow instructors to offer MHFA in areas that might otherwise be unable to afford the travel expenses.

By empowering these instructors, we seek to create a comprehensive support network that prioritizes mental health within our communities. These trainers will be at the forefront of facilitating MHFA workshops, enabling participants to enhance their understanding, recognition, and response to mental health challenges. The availability of trainers marks a significant step towards ensuring mental health support is accessible to all within our Episcopal community.

Needless to say, 11 Mental Health First Aid instructors are not enough. Having excellent single-page resources without having them well-known and easily accessible is not enough. Having a well-developed curriculum for clergy without implementing it is not enough. Starting this work is meaningless if we don’t have the continuity to carry it out. Resolution A073 will provide the much-needed continuity and consistent oversight by creating a Standing Commission for Human Health and Wellness. The Commission will be responsible for recommending policies, strategies, programs, and resources to the General Convention and the Episcopal Church in order to support and strengthen the Church’s ministry with all God’s people as they strive to maintain and improve their physical, mental, spiritual, relational, and emotional health.

While a Standing Commission does not directly perform ministry, it sets policy that guides action. This action, in turn, informs future policy, as seen by existing Standing Commissions like those on liturgy/music and formation.

The current lack of centralized direction for health-related ministry has resulted in scattered initiatives and uncoordinated policies, necessitating the creation of numerous task forces to handle issues that a single entity could address. A Standing Commission on Human Health and Wellness would serve as a central hub, providing much-needed guidance and continuity.

Beyond mental health, a Standing Commission on Human Health and Wellness could delve into a range of pressing topics, including:

  • The imploding relationship between The Episcopal Church and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • Recommended revisions to Health Liturgies and Healing Practices, as requested by Resolution D036
  • Policy changes regarding firearms in churches and non-sanctuary properties
  • Policy revisions around alcohol and substance abuse within Title IV proceedings to ensure support during a crisis rather than a response that worsens the situation
  • Examining harassment and abuse within the Church and proposing policy changes for reporting, tracking, and promoting healing

The ever-growing importance of health and mental health issues requires a comprehensive approach. Piecemeal actions and policies for ministry and mission are inadequate to meet the demands of our times. A Standing Commission on Human Health and Wellness will provide the essential structure for The Episcopal Church to address these critical matters effectively.

Since we last gathered, 100,000 people have died by suicide, and nearly 220,000 have died of a drug overdose. Our people are dying – our laity, our clergy, our friends. Knowing how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis can make all the difference. Creating a Standing Commission on Human Health and Wellness to implement the work we have begun can LITERALLY save lives.

As we move forward, we encourage every member of the Episcopal Church to participate in Mental Health First Aid training. By doing so, we equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively support those in need while fostering greater compassion and understanding within our faith communities. If you are interested in hosting a Mental Health First Aid training, please get in touch with me at [email protected], and I can help you find a trainer near you.