Perspectives – Addressing Mental Health in our Congregations

Julie Taylor-Costello

Julie works for Lutheran Family Services as the Community Outreach and Training Coordinator for the state of Nebraska. Before coming to work at LFS, I worked for more than 20 years in higher education, in student services and as faculty. I earned my PhD in education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and just graduated with my master’s degree in mental health counseling. As part of the LFS team, I am working to bring Mental Health First Aid training to anyone who would like to become a certified mental health first aider. It is just like CPR and first aid, only for mental health.

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska has partnered with Faith Partners on a five-year grant, offering Mental Health First Aid training for the whole state of Nebraska. This work will include providing Mental Health First Aid training throughout the various community sectors including parents, higher education, non-profit organizations, law enforcement, and the faith community.

The major connecting points between LFS, Faith Partners, and the grant activities are for teams to create an educational platform within their congregational community for topic areas, such as, Mental Health Awareness training (MHAT) and developing a referral network. Faith Partners will develop congregational teams to help create an educational platform for MHAT and other related topics as well as a referral network for behavioral health (Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders) issues. The Grant Activities will cover the following goals:

  • An increase in community and/or congregational support and capacity for mental health services
  • An increase in mental health awareness training, especially for the faith communities across the state of Nebraska
  • An increase in access to mental health and substance use resources and education

Year three of the grant began on October 1, 2023. Looking back at Years One and Two, the following has been accomplished:

  • 37 MHFA Trainings (22 Adult and 15 Youth)
  • 695 people were trained (359 Adult and 336 Youth)
  • Training attendees included:
    • Mental health related workforce providers
    • Primary care providers
    • Substance use providers
    • Clergy/Religious leaders
    • Case workers
    • Social workers
    • Licensed professional counselors
    • School nurses
    • Teachers
    • Community outreach workers

On October 14th Lord of Love Lutheran and Salem Baptist churches combined to attend a modified Adult Mental Health First Aid training. There were about 12 people in attendance. The modified version of MHFA allows participants to gain the information necessary to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges, gain the skills necessary to start the uncomfortable conversation, and assist people in need of help – connecting them to the appropriate professional or self-care strategies. Organizations sometimes choose the modified versions of MHFA because of their available time, and although it does not lead to a certification in MHFA, it does still provide applicable skills that people can use right away.

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