Building Faith in Recovery: SAMHSA’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives
By: Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., Director, Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
I’ve often said that recovery is a faith-based practice. Recovering from behavioral health conditions requires faith that we can overcome incredible odds. Recovery can also be helped by having faith in something greater than us. In fact, research shows that spirituality, one of the eight dimensions of wellness, helps improve our mental and physical health and can offer a path to important social support.
That’s why faith-based communities play a key role in prevention, referral to treatment, fostering resilience, and supporting recovery—especially in underserved communities and racially/ethnically diverse populations. People often seek support from within their faith community when an individual or family faces a behavioral health challenge or when a community experiences a traumatic event. This means that faith leaders are often first responders, and knowing how to respond to these situations can make a huge difference in how the individual, family, and community copes and heals.
However, spiritual leaders don’t always possess the required behavioral health “literacy” to provide timely, appropriate help. Talitha Arnold, M.Div., Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (New Mexico) and co-lead of the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force, talks candidly about the struggles her own father, a World War II veteran, faced when he came home:
“For 10 years after World War II, my father was a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who did groundbreaking research with golden and bald eagles. He’d also come out of the war with “battle fatigue,” aka PTSD. Shortly before I was born, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and committed to a veterans’ hospital. Two years later, he took his own life. Throughout childhood and into adult life, I never heard the words “mental illness” or “suicide” spoken in church. The silence was deafening. How can the church help? Start by breaking the silence.”
I’m proud that SAMHSA is helping to break this silence. We support many programs than can help faith-based communities support those in recovery and their loved ones and prevent suicide. For example:
- SAMHSA’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives program helps to build recovery-focused partnerships and provide tools and resources that acknowledge the important role faith and spirituality play in prevention, treatment, and recovery.
- SAMHSA sponsors Your Life Matters!, an initiative of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Faith Communities Task Force that provides worship and spiritual resources, communication aids, and training tools to help communities of faith prevent suicides.
- SAMHSA has leveled the playing field by eliminating barriers to faith-based grassroots organizations successfully competing for SAMHSA grants.
- SAMHSA convenes nationwide summits to encourage partnerships among community and faith-based organizations, bringing together both national and regional focus groups in 47 states across the United States to find solutions to behavioral health problems in communities. SAMHSA provides funding, training, and technical assistance to grassroots faith organizations serving their communities.
- As part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health, SAMHSA collaborated on the development on a guide for MentalHealth.gov that provides useful information on how to discuss mental health with community members and congregations and includes resources for treatment and services.
There are many pathways to recovery. SAMHSA’s goal is to ensure that individuals who approach their faith leaders for support find not only compassion and spiritual guidance, but also a network of evidence-informed people and programs that can help light the way to recovery.
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