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Including Students with Common Mental Health Conditions at Church

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Including Students with Common Mental Health Conditions at Church

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In this presentation from the 2020 Together Conference, Dr. Grcevich reviews research demonstrating the need for an intentional approach to mental health inclusion at church,
recognizes common barriers to inclusion at church for children, teens and adults with common mental health conditions, explores how a set of mental health inclusion strategies might be applied to potential obstacles in your church and identifies five attributes of a mental health-friendly church

In this presentation from the 2020 Together Conference, Dr. Grcevich reviews research demonstrating the need for an intentional approach to mental health inclusion at church,
recognizes common barriers to inclusion at church for children, teens and adults with common mental health conditions, explores how a set of mental health inclusion strategies might be applied to potential obstacles in your church and identifies five attributes of a mental health-friendly church


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Including Students with Common Mental Health Conditions at Church

  1. 1. Including Students with Common Mental Health Conditions at Church Stephen Grcevich, MD President and Founder, Key Ministry Presented at Together Conference 2020 Mount Paran Church, Atlanta GA March 7, 2020
  2. 2. Goals for today… • Review research demonstrating the need for an intentional approach to mental health inclusion at church • Recognize common barriers to inclusion at church for children, teens and adults with common mental health conditions • Explore how a set of mental health inclusion strategies could be applied to potential obstacles in your church • Identify five attributes of a mental health-friendly church
  3. 3. How does having a child with a chronic health condition impact attendance at religious services? • Data analyzed from three waves of the National Survey of Children’s Health • Three samples (2003, 2007, 2011- 12) of approximately 100,000 families of children ages 0-17 • Examined the relationship between specific disabilities and families who identify as “never” attending a religious service Whitehead AL. J Scientific Study Religion 2018;57(2)377-395.
  4. 4. Whitehead AL. J ScientificStudy Religion 2018;57(2)377-395.
  5. 5. Why is church participation so difficult? Traits associated with common mental health conditions often clash with “church culture” – how we expect people should act when we come together
  6. 6. Why special needs ministry models don’t work with this population • Reluctance to self- disclose because of stigma, confidentiality • Kids, teens will FLEE activities that draw attention to their differences • They want to be included in what everyone else is doing!
  7. 7. The foundation of Key Ministry’s mental health inclusion ministry model • Recognize non-essential features of ministry activities, environments, that make church attendance more difficult • Implementation of strategies across all areas of ministry to welcome children, adults and their families
  8. 8. Seven barriers to including families impacted by mental illness at church • Stigma • Anxiety • Capacity for self-control • Sensory processing • Social communication • Social isolation • Past experiences of church
  9. 9. Welcoming the Phillips family The Phillips family lives down the street from your church. Becky (a single parent) is raising Josh (age 9) and Jennifer (age 7). Josh was invited toVBS by a friend from school, had a great time and wants to come to church every Sunday. and to Awana on Wednesday night. Josh is on medication for ADHD and receives special education services for dyslexia. Jennifer has separation anxiety disorder Becky has social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia What might go wrong in the first month of her trying to attend your church
  10. 10. Defining the “win” • Your ministry achieves a win when any family member of someone with mental illness has a meaningful encounter with your church. • Persons with mental illness have spouses, parents, sons, daughters, siblings who need churches too! • Mental health ministry is central to other ministries with vulnerable populations… • Foster care/adoption ministry • Prison ministry • Substance use care and support
  11. 11. Key considerations for an effective mental health inclusion strategy… • Inclusion is a mindset – not a program • Kids with mental health issues have parents with mental health issues! • A good strategy benefits everyone and doesn’t require anyone to self-identify • Ministry owned by the people, supported by staff • No church can include everyone with mental illness, but every church can do more!
  12. 12. Seven strategies for promoting mental health inclusion (TEACHER) • Assemble your inclusion team • Create welcoming ministry environments. • Focus on activities most essential to spiritual growth • Communicate effectively • Help families with their most heartfelt needs • Offer education and support • Empower the people to take responsibility
  13. 13. Who needs a seat at the table? Building your inclusion team • Senior leadership • Ministry directors on church-wide implementation team • Ministry departments may have their own team • Consider gifts, talents, passions of church members, attendees
  14. 14. What might our mental health inclusion planning process look like? • Leaders in each ministry area might identify potential barriers, useful strategies in their area of responsibility. • An alternate approach might be to focus on a strategy (or several strategies) and implement the strategy across your ministry departments or environments. • Assigning responsibility for the plan (or components of the plan) with deadlines for implementation important.
  15. 15. Using the ministry planning tool
  16. 16. Welcoming ministry environments… • Promote focus, attention • Help attendees prioritize important takeaways • Support in processing directions • Supports kids in maintaining self-control • Reserved seating for persons with agoraphobia
  17. 17. Common considerations in sensory-friendly ministry environments • Sound • Lighting • Flooring • Window treatments • Wall color • “Fragrance-free” zones • Seating • Dress code
  18. 18. A process for becoming more sensory- friendly? • Consider… • Entrances • Worship spaces • Children’s/student ministry spaces • Vacation Bible School • Sensory-friendly movie • Role for online church
  19. 19. Inclusion in high-impact ministry activities Prioritize what you MOST want people to do to grow in faith • Weekend worship? • Small groups? • Missions/serving? • Prayer, family devotions?
  20. 20. Develop a mental health communication strategy • Preach it from the pulpit! • What NOT to say • Website pictures, video • Bulletins, printed materials • E-communication • Social media • Online church inclusion
  21. 21. What churches are doing to communicate more effectively • Praying for persons with mental illness during worship • Sermon series on mental health-related topics • Facebook video targeting families with mental health issues • Interviews/prerecorded testimonies of respected members during worship
  22. 22. Mental Health Awareness Sunday • Strategy for introducing a mental health ministry • Outreach to friends, neighbors • Teaching on mental health- related topics • Great event for small- medium size churches • Church “conversation” can be very powerful!
  23. 23. Helping families with heartfelt needs • Casseroles • Respite care • Counseling • Current referral list • Mental health professionals • Treatment facilities
  24. 24. Mental Health Education and Support • Training for pastors, church staff, volunteers • Seminaries • Mental Health First Aid • Trauma-informed care • Christian-based mental health education, support • Fresh Hope • Grace Alliance • Celebrate Recovery • My Quiet Cave • Mental health support • NAMI
  25. 25. Empowering your people to assume responsibility for ministry • Organic support – “Grab a mop” • Relational respite • Stephen’s ministers • Mental health liaison • Coming alongside friends at church
  26. 26. The Role of Mental Health Liaison • Primary mental health contact, advocate at church • Meets with new visitors with mental health needs • Maintains mental health referral list • Contact for professionals seeking supportive churches • Coordinates training for church, lay leadership • Obtains additional resources and support from organizations like Key Ministry
  27. 27. The best strategy? Having a trusted friend to come alongside new visitors at church
  28. 28. Five characteristics of a mental health friendly church • Demonstrates an intentional inclusion planning process • Educates church staff, volunteers on mental illness • Implements a mental health communication strategy • Provides practical help to individuals, families affected • Offers mental health-specific education/support groups
  29. 29. Initial steps to implementing a mental health inclusion strategy • Senior pastors • Pray for discernment • Pursue buy-in from staff, board • Church staff, volunteers • Approach senior leadership for support • Developing personal ministry • Respect church leaders • “Be the church” where you’ve been planted
  30. 30. Taking the Next Step…Together
  31. 31. Key Ministry promotes meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. Free training, consultation, support and resources What Does Key Ministry Do?
  32. 32. Help from Key Ministry • Training • Conferences • Video training • Roundtables • Consultation to churches • Resources • Networking with other ministries • Social media, sermon videos, research • Someone to come alongside your ministry!
  33. 33. Connect with Key Ministry • www.keyministry.org • Twitter: @KeyMinistry • www.facebook.com/keyministry • steve@keyministry.org
  34. 34. Supplemental slides
  35. 35. People with anxiety overestimate threat, risk when entering unfamiliar situations • Social anxiety • Separation anxiety • Agoraphobia • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  36. 36. What church activities are challenging for children and teens with anxiety? • Separating from parents at worship • If they are made to be a center of attention • Unfamiliar situations… retreats/mission trips • Self-disclosure in small groups • Large group social situations • Transitions between age-group ministries
  37. 37. Strategies for ministry leaders serving kids and teens with anxiety • Lots of pictures and video to prepare kids, families for new experiences • Promote opportunity for kids, families to tour your campus before their first visit • Use kids from many schools as “greeters” • Sensitivity to allowing “preferred” roommates on trips • Using cell phone cameras for kids with separation anxiety
  38. 38. Tips for church staff and volunteers when kids and teens are anxious • Don’t call attention to an anxious child • Avoid interventions that make them feel “different • Observe for problems at “drop-off” • Designate a private place for kids/parents in distress • Watch for kids who are alone with parents in sanctuary • Offer to meet with parents when a child’s anxiety appears to interfere with ministry participation
  39. 39. Self-control Executive functioning refers to cognitive abilities involved with modulating other abilities and behaviors. • Behavioral inhibition • Verbal working memory • Non-verbal working memory • Emotional self-regulation • Reconstitution
  40. 40. One parent’s lament… “People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”
  41. 41. Understanding why “structure” helps people with executive functioning deficits
  42. 42. The more kids have to process, the less capacity they have for self-control
  43. 43. When are kids most at risk for aggressive behavior at church? • Transition times before and after children’s worship • Christian education activities when environment is more chaotic, unstructured, supervision less consistent • Following high stimulation, high energy activities • Evening activities
  44. 44. How might having ADHD impact church participation? • Difficulty sitting through adult worship service, • Keeping hands to self difficult in worship, Sunday School • Prone to immediate, negative reactions to authority figures • Teens may struggle with time management, prioritizing church activity, susceptible to negative peer influences
  45. 45. Unique challenges presented to the church by kids with ADHD: • Church environments are generally less structured than school • Churches rely upon ministry volunteers who lack training as educators • Parents, physicians often withhold effective ADHD medication for weekends • Many church activities occur when ADHD medication has worn off
  46. 46. ADHD inclusion strategies (children/youth) • Registration/sign-in needs to be orderly • Staffing for transition times before/after services • Use of color, lighting • Engaging, not overwhelming • Communication strategies • Reinforce key point(s) • Use of personal stories, experiences • System for getting helps, resources to parents • Family worship experiences geared to kids?
  47. 47. Sensory Processing NOISE, LIGHT, TOUCH, SMELLS AND TASTE THAT OTHERS FIND ENGAGING ARE AVERSIVE Challenges for kids: Pick up and drop-off times High energy worship Vulnerability to aggressive behavior Multiple conversations in close proximity
  48. 48. Social Communication DIFFICULTIES AT CHURCH FOR PERSONS WHO STRUGGLE TO PROCESS SOCIAL CUES Church-specific challenges: • Small talk • Small groups • Bullies • Unfamiliar situations
  49. 49. Social Isolation HOW DO PEOPLE FIND YOUR CHURCH IF THEY DON’T KNOW SOMEONE ATTENDING YOUR CHURCH? • Parents less likely to connect with neighbors through children’s activities, friendships • Isolation as a symptom of depression, anxiety
  50. 50. Past Experiences of Church THE APPLE OFTEN DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE! • Lack of support from church in a time of need • No one noticed when they were missing • No help offered when a child experienced struggles • Adults with mental health concerns as children never got in habit of attending

Hinweis der Redaktion

  • How will you promote the development of relationships with families outside the church and help support connectedness of families that have a relationship with your church?

    Links: https://drgrcevich.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/mental-health-inclusion-responding-to-practical-needs/
  • How can your people be engaged in the work of your ministry and empowered to “be the church” for families wherever they’re placed?



  • Reinforce Key Ministry’s Mission…

    Free Consultation service


    Front Door…online church

    Inclusion Fusion
  • Emphasize the opportunity to visit in advance of the first Sunday at church, rehearsing responses to anxiety-inducing situations.

    Pearl…Jeremy Collins’ texts pictures between kids and parents when a child is struggling with separation anxiety.

    Discuss “looping” with small group leaders transitioning with kids from one age-group ministry to another.

    Importance of family ministry…kids with anxiety likely to have even more 1:1 time with parents.

  • See the link to Anxiety and spiritual development under “Additional resources” for specific strategies with first-time attenders, kids attending overnight retreats, mission trips, etc.
  • We expect (for the most part) untrained volunteers to work with kids at church on Sundays when they’re frequently without the medication that is indispensible to the teachers they work with during the week with Master’s degrees and many years of experience!