Growing mental health awareness in SW20

It’s very likely that you, or someone you know, has experienced struggles with mental health. World Mental Health Day – 10 October – confronts us with the fact that one in four adults, and one in ten children, will experience mental health issues. So what can churches do to support people living with mental illness?

Raynes Park Community Church is a church in South West London. Led by Kerry Coke and her husband Nick, the church is sited in a prosperous area – but this doesn’t exempt the community from mental illness. ‘The train line right by the church, out of Waterloo, has a very high incidence of suicide,’ Kerry says.

Kerry heard about Livability’s Lifting the Lid kit at a Churches Together training day at Livability national office – and decided it needed to be a priority. ‘We’ve trained people in physical healthcare, like first aid, but we’d not thought about mental health. I felt we needed to be clued up properly to be welcoming and inclusive. Looking at what Jesus said about mental health helps us to understand how holistic the Gospel is.’

Kerry ran the free, six-week course at her church and says the impact has been huge. ‘I reckon about one-third of our congregation came along to the training, but because it has raised awareness about mental health so significantly, about 60% of people are now engaging with this area.’ Existing church members felt they could share their own mental health journey with the group, for the first time.

This is true across the wider Church, says David Primrose, Transforming Communities Director for the Diocese of Lichfield. The diocese, which numbers nearly 600 churches, piloted Lifting the Lid, where it was received very positively. Says David: ‘One of the things that I’ve discovered in every church is that whenever you give people permission to talk about mental health issues in an open, affirming way, there has been a significant group of people in every church who have eagerly come forward to be part of that conversation.‘

Now the Raynes Park church is developing a mental health champions’ team, fired up by the desire of church members to take away any barriers to being part of church. ‘We’re going to display photos of this team so people know who they can speak to and we’ll be signposting people to local services who can help,’ says Kerry. ‘And we’re looking at simple things, like the language we use, that can unintentionally make people feel stigmatised or excluded when they are going through mental health issues.’

Kerry encourages other churches to engage with Lifting the Lid: ‘We’ve been really empowered by this. Don’t be afraid – you don’t need to be experts to start, that’s why Lifting the Lid is there, to help you. There will be people in your church who are desperate to say how mental health has affected them. Let’s take this opportunity to make the Gospel truly holistic and inclusive.’

Find out more about Lifting the Lid here.