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The Connection Between Mental Health & Spirituality

The Kim Foundation offers free educational presentations to a variety of community groups through our outreach program, A Voice for Hope and Healing. A large portion of these mental health and suicide prevention focused presentations have been to church groups throughout Omaha, Lincoln, and Bellevue areas.

During these presentations we typically give an overview of common mental disorders, symptoms, community resources, and warning signs of suicide. We also introduce the foundation’s many projects, campaigns, and offer ways that we can help assist people to the right service. However, because we are not clinicians, we try not to dive too deeply into diagnosis and treatment methods, unless addressing a specific question from the audience. For this reason, we understand how critical it is to have strong partnerships with local service providers and mental health professionals.

On Wednesday, September 16th The Kim Foundation sponsored a mental health workshop in partnership with Lutheran Family Services for over 20 Clergy and Pastoral lay persons. Until now, there haven’t been many opportunities available for clergy to learn about the symptoms and warning signs of mental illness, and about the effects that trauma can have on someone’s mental health. Mental Health 101: Information for Clergy and Pastoral Lay Persons was developed by Cyndi Muhlbauer, MA, LIMHP, and Ben Czyz, MS, LIMHP, of Lutheran Family Services. This four hour training was designed to help give secular people a better understanding of mental illness and how they can successfully assist people in their parish with their mental health needs.

As far back as the National Mental Health Act of 1953, there was an acknowledgement from the federal government that, “Community mental health treatment cannot be effective without the participation of clergy.” Clergy are often the first people contacted when an individual is having a personal crisis. Since 1953, more recent research has shown that the most important predictor of an individual recovering from a mental illness is their ability to have at least one healthy, supportive relationship from a provider, and for that provider to give the individual hope. With nearly one in four families affected by mental illness, odds are that many of these families are seeking initial counsel from their church leaders before reaching out to a mental health professional.

The training covered a wide scope of material, including primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention tactics, the history of mental illness, types of mood, anxiety, psychotic, personality, and substance abuse disorders, as well as their symptoms, causes and risk factors of mental illnesses, how to set healthy boundaries, and understanding when it is the appropriate time to refer an individual over to an experienced mental health professional.

The trainers did a fantastic job explaining all of the material, as well as explaining the importance of establishing trust and instilling hope.

“A common question we ask clients that come through our office is whether they have a religious affiliation, and if they are active within their church or place of worship,” said Muhlbauer. “More often than not, for people who are experiencing mental health symptoms for the first time have either recently stopped going to church, or they were never active in a religious community to begin with.”

A small study conducted by the University of Missouri analyzed information from 160 people of various religions with the goal to link greater mental health with higher spirituality. Forty of them were Buddhists, 41 were Catholics, 22 were Jews, 31 were Protestants, and 26 were Muslims, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Religion and Health. They found that the “very religious” scored themselves slightly higher than the “moderately religious” and “nonreligious” in areas of quality of life, access to doctors, healthy habits, emotional health, and job satisfaction.

For many, this news is no surprise. Spirituality and religious activity have been a source of comfort and relief from stress for multitudes of people. In fact, according to a study from the University of Florida in Gainesville and Wayne State University in Detroit, older adults use prayer more than any other alternative therapy for health. Nearly 96% of study participants use prayer specifically to cope with stress.

In an article entitled Healing from Within: Spirituality and Mental Health by Dr. Larry Culliford explains the close connection between spirituality and overall health, “Spirituality is concerned with people finding meaning and purpose in their lives, as well as the sense of belonging with in a community. Because spirituality comes into focus in times of stress, suffering, physical illness, mental illness, loss, dying, and bereavement, it is important not only in psychiatry but also throughout all of medicine.”



About Jill Sauser, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator

Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank, and YWCA. Since becoming Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation in April 2014, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, the Metro Area LOSS Team, and is helping lead a community-wide health improvement initiative with the Douglas County Health Department called, “Just Reach Out,” which is focused on improving the people’s view on mental and behavioral health treatment.