With one in four of the population likely to experience a mental health condition at some point in their lives, work in this field has never been more important. One of those working within this diocese in mental health support is Revd Philip Evans, the Lead Chaplain at St Andrew’s Healthcare, a specialist mental healthcare charity based in Northampton.
“I work alongside colleagues, chaplains and volunteers, from a variety of faiths and traditions, and our role is to serve patients, staff and visitors – of all faiths and of no faith – offering spiritual and pastoral care,” explains Philip. “We work with many people who are vulnerable, unwell and who have been through traumatic or painful experiences, and our hope is to bring care, compassion and healing.”
“At St Andrew’s I look after our CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) for young people at FitzRoy House in Northampton, our adult Autistic Spectrum Disorder wards in Northampton and our hospital in Mansfield, which cares for adult men with autism or learning disabilities – some 200 patients in all.”
FitzRoy House is the largest mental health charity for young people in Europe, and there are other initiatives across the diocese which have emerged over the last few years. These include Renew Wellbeing cafés, where churches partner with mental health professionals and provide reflective spaces.
“The Renew Wellbeing cafés are a wonderful concept – places of friendship and belonging, where it is ok to be not ok, rooted in a framework and pattern of prayer,” says Philip. “There are local cafés now in Northampton town centre, Kingsthorpe, Earls Barton and Towcester, with others in prospect. Every single parish or other ministry in the diocese will be addressing mental health and wellbeing needs in some way.”
One of the ways in which this is happening is training events. The Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship invited Philip and Dr David Smart to speak at St Giles Church, Northampton in November on ‘Christian ministry to those with mental health issues’, which proved to be a helpful exercise.
“We were very pleased to be invited to the DEF, encouraged by the wish to reflect biblically and theologically on this area of ministry, but with an emphasis on practical issues. The good numbers attending showed that these are matters of concern to many who wish to be – and for the Church to be – caring and of effective help in ministry.”
Training events are also planned for the coming year, courtesy of the Diocesan Healing Ministry Group, which Philip is part of.
“We are going to be running a training day for clergy at St Andrew’s on Tuesday 19th March, giving practical help for churches in responding to mental health concerns. There will also be a day-long conference at Christ the King, Kettering on Saturday 19th October, with main speaker Becky Harcourt (from New Wine), addressing emotional pain and hurts. I am especially keen that we help churches develop good healing ministry practice in these areas.”
These diocesan initiatives in the area of mental health is a reflection of the work taking place nationally in the Church. Mind and Soul is a Christian organisation specialising in the area of mental health, with a range of articles, videos and advice on its website (www.mindandsoulfoundation.org/). There is also the FaithAction ‘Friendly Places’ scheme where churches can sign up to commit to being places which support people with mental health issues (www.faithaction.net/) . Philip is keen, though, that the Church doesn’t just limit this work to Christians.
“I’m keen that the Church always sees its mission and ministry as being ‘out there’, giving special attention to the one who is lost, perhaps above the 99 who are safe,” he says. “GPs and the Church need to help and be helped by each other. Schools too are in the front line, with designated mental health leads being appointed: there is huge scope for the Church’s children’s and youth ministries to engage with wellbeing issues.”
This bridging of the gap between helping those who attend or do not attend church has been helped by the fact that Bishop Donald speaks for the Church of England on mental health issues in the House of Lords.
“Bishop Donald has challenged the Government to take direct responsibility for delivering on and being accountable for its promises in the mental health area,” explains Philip. “He also spoke about mental health chaplaincy, citing in particular what the Royal College of Psychiatrists has done in highlighting the importance of spiritual care, and essentially saying that chaplaincy resources need to match the great needs in society.”
So there is still work to be done, but important inroads have been made in the area of mental health, which Philip hopes will continue to grow.
“My hope is that mental healthcare professionals will recognise the demonstrated value and place of faith and spirituality in securing healthcare outcomes for patients. Similarly, I hope and am sure that the Church will grow more alert and responsive to mental health needs – being accessible, sensitive, caring and giving ‘parity of esteem’ in its ministry and mission to all.”