Mental health initiatives across the diocese addressing an increasing need


First published 24th November 2020

Over the course of this year of lockdowns, mental health needs have increased. Many services and providers were challenged during the national lockdown, with only some continuing through online or virtual means. This has led to long waiting lists for services.

Mental health is complex and those who perhaps didn’t struggle prior to lockdown now may want help. Across the Diocese, churches have come together to provide resources and to address this need.

The Revd Malcolm Strange, Priest-in-Charge at Fromeside Benefice, was watching a BBC interview with Ruby Wax when he suddenly had the epiphany that this aspect of the lockdown was something that could be addressed by the church.

Revd Malcolm Strange, Priest-in-Charge at Fromeside Benefice said, “It struck me that there was no better placed organisation within our Communities than the church. We are represented in virtually every locality and have a wealth of experience of providing a ‘Listening Ministry’ to the anxious and afraid, which were just the types of people that the Coronavirus Tsunami was about to engulf. As one mental health care professional made clear to me: ‘Because of its work in caring for families who have faced bereavement, the church is far better equipped to do this work than perhaps it believes it is’”.

It struck me that there was no better placed organisation within our Communities than the church. We are represented in virtually every locality and have a wealth of experience of providing a ‘Listening Ministry’ to the anxious and afraid, which were just the types of people that the Coronavirus Tsunami was about to engulf.

He then teamed up with The Revd Ian Wallace, the Team Rector at Yate Benefice, to create a mental health response across the Yate and Fromeside Mission Area. They got together with various stakeholders in the community such as doctors, and community leaders to explore what would work for their area.

They decided to bridge the gap, and launch a listening service utilising their recently trained ACORN listeners. This has been a great success, and is receiving frequent referrals.

On the other side of the diocese in the Avonside Mission Area, they launched a Mental Awareness Group prior to lockdown. It was a missional community for those with a heart for mental health including for those with lived experience. They followed their missional communities’ 4Ws framework of Welcome, Word, Worship and Witness.

The first thing the group wanted was to address stigma in their churches so two people from the group shared a presentation with all the churches in the mission area. Following the presentation a second small Mental Awareness Group started up.

Helen, who presented in the churches, said “So many people came up to us after the services and told us about their mental health issues”.

During lockdown the groups continued to meet via Zoom. The mission area also partnered with Kintsugi Hope, with three people undertaking the online training. This enabled them further to start to run an online and a small face to face group with the Mental Awareness Groups. They have been getting familiar with the resources and the technology so hope to run outreach groups across the mission area next year.

The group thought having a few people who were mental health first aiders in each of the churches would help to make their churches safe supportive spaces. They are working with Helen Styles, Safeguarding Training Adviser at Bristol Diocese, to make this happen.

Helen Styles said “We are working towards being able to offer Mental Health First Aid training across the Diocese to enable church officers to provide appropriate support to those in mental health crisis. The aspiration is that we have a mental health first aider in every parish and that we can contribute to reducing stigma around mental health by raising awareness and encouraging dialogue. This is very much a work in progress and part of a long term plan. We will provide further information once training is available”.

For more information see the ‘How To Find Mental Health Resources guide’.