Today, 10 October, the Anglican Alliance marks World Mental Health Day 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of mental health has been raised in all our regional consultations. The pandemic itself and the disruption, anxiety and suffering in people’s lives is impacting not only on their physical health, but also on their mental health. Last week the Anglican Alliance participated in consultations with health professionals across the Communion which again highlighted mental health as a priority for action.
In response to the concern voiced globally on mental health, the Anglican Alliance developed a section on our COVID-19 resource hub on COVID-19 and mental health: looking after ourselves and others. The pages contain information and guidelines from various professional organisations and links to resources. These can be adapted to different contexts to help people to learn about and care for their own and others’ mental well-being in these challenging times.
Churches in various regions have responded to mental health concerns exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, in East Africa, a webinar was held to raise awareness on the issues. In Latin America an Anglican Commission for Mental Health was formed in April 2020, with an active, region-wide programme of work (see below for more details).
The World Health Organisation says: “This year’s World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, comes at a time when our daily lives have changed considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past months have brought many challenges: for health-care workers, providing care in difficult circumstances, going to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 home with them; for students, adapting to taking classes from home, with little contact with teachers and friends, and anxious about their futures; for workers whose livelihoods are threatened; for the vast number of people caught in poverty or in fragile humanitarian settings with extremely limited protection from COVID-19; and for people with mental health conditions, many experiencing even greater social isolation than before. And this is to say nothing of managing the grief of losing a loved one, sometimes without being able to say goodbye.”
Given the critical increase in need for mental health and psychosocial support, WHO is calling for significantly increased investment in mental health programmes at national and international levels. Such mental health services have long been chronically underfunded.
The World Health Organisation highlights global issues on mental health to support its campaign for investment in services. Here are some of the key facts from WHO’s article:
Mental health issues
- “Close to one billion people have a mental disorder and anyone, anywhere, can be affected.
- Depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents and adults.
- 1 in 5 children and adolescents has a mental disorder.
- People with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia tend to die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.
- Suicide is claiming the lives of close to 800 000 people every year ̶ 1 person every 40 seconds ̶- and is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29 years.”
- “Despite the universal nature and the magnitude of mental ill health, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply remains substantial.
- Relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services.
- In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75% of people with mental health conditions receive no treatment for their condition at all.
- The serious gaps that still exist in mental health care are a result of chronic under-investment over many decades in mental health promotion, prevention and care.
- Stigma, discrimination and human rights abuses of people with mental health conditions remain widespread.
- On average, countries spend less than 2% of their national health budgets on mental health.”
- “Some of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, can be treated with talking therapies, medication, or a combination of these.
- Generalist health workers can be trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
- Regular health checks of people with severe mental disorders can prevent premature death.
- The quality of life of people living with conditions such as autism and dementia can be greatly improved when their caregivers receive appropriate training.
- The rights of people living with mental health conditions can be protected and promoted through mental health legislation, policy, development of affordable, quality community-based mental health services and the involvement of people with lived experience.”
Anglican Commission for Mental Health in Latin America
While the Church has always been concerned with and cared for people’s holistic well-being, in some regions, churches have more recently begun to focus specifically on mental health. In Latin America an Anglican Commission for Mental Health has been formed. Representatives of churches in Latin America, along with mental health professionals, held a meeting in April 2020, organised by the Anglican Alliance, to discuss what measures can be taken to protect the mental health of church members, both clergy and laity. The Commission is engaging throughout the region, gathering professionals and people in pastoral ministries to equip churches to deal with mental health-related issues.
Edgar Cruz, a registered physiologist from the Diocese of El Salvador, shared that “an agreement was reached to generate actions more focused on education on mental health rather than on clinical care, since this optimises the time and effort”.
A series of online events were held in May 2020 aimed at members of Anglican churches in the region, led by Revd Deacon Belina Carranza from Mexico and Cruz Edgardo Torres from El Salvador. The group has also launched a Facebook Page to share their news, talks, infographics and other relevant information.
Edgar Cruz, convenor of the Commission, reports that a highlight of its work has been the talks, reaching people in dioceses across the region. The themes of these talks have included coping strategies and measures to protect mental health during COVID-19 confinement and tools for protecting young people’s mental and emotional health in the pandemic. There was also a trio of talks called “Caring for our Shepherds”, addressing the issues of pastoral and psychological care of the clergy, healing wounds from the past.
As a significant extension of the Commission’s work, the Centre for Christian Studies in Panama is now working on a module on “psycho-pastoral tools for leadership”. This theme has also been replicated in church leadership training in El Salvador and will later be developed with the diocesan Youth Ministry.
Looking ahead, the Commission expects to continue its work educating and sharing learning on mental health issues, including grief management, emotional expression, resilience, family relationships and other topics that emerged in the workshops.
Paulo Ueti, Anglican Alliance Director in Latin America, said, “This initiative is very relevant for the mission of the Church and it is a Christian testimony on how important is to care for the self and for others. This fits in our mandate as the Anglican Alliance to inspire, equip and assist people in their own contexts enabling connections, learning exchange and spiritual strengthening as One Body”.
Archbishop Julio Murray, Primate of the Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America and Bishop of Panama, has connected with the Anglican Commission for Mental Health and has also championed the issue in his own diocese.
As Archbishop Julio explains, “For us here in Panama we recognise the situation that the pandemic has placed on the table: aside from other physical illness, mental health is also present. The work that we are sharing here in Panama in preparing the lay leaders has also had a very important impact in this area. Some of those who have been prepared, they recognise that they need some help in this area before they could go and help anyone else. What we are asking them to do primarily is active listening, making sure that they are present for other people and if there is a need for referral to do so.”
Archbishop Julio also shared about the hotline for those needing mental health support, adding, “Along with the ecumenical movement, there is an important role that the Anglican Episcopal Church is playing in being on the team with those who respond on the hotline for people who need help.”
For more information on the Anglican Commission for Mental Health work, please see: Anglican Commission for Mental Health – Latin America
For information on caring for mental health at this time, please visit the Anglican Alliance COVID-19 resource hub on COVID-19 and mental health: looking after ourselves and others.
Follow this link for a visual retreat from the Anglican Alliance: “Calm our fears in this time of great distress”.