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Study urges faith leaders and NHS to collaborate

19 August 2022

Partnership brings benefits for mental-health care, it says

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TRAINING for both NHS staff, to help their patients’ spiritual needs, and faith leaders, to respond to the mental-health needs of their flocks, has been urged by a pilot project exploring how collaboration between faith leaders and health-care staff can improve the mental health of communities.

The study, which produced a lessons-learnt report, was commissioned by Health Education England after a request from the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer for England.

In her foreword to the the report, Mental Health and Spirituality: Building workforce competence and capability together, Bishop Mullally says: “Faith leaders have deep knowledge of their own communities and the ways in which mental health needs are perceived, understood, acknowledged, or in some places greeted with silence, in those contexts. Bringing together the professional skills and expertise of mental health professionals with the contextualised wisdom of those faith leaders is therefore a very powerful act.

“This pilot project was an opportunity for health professionals to deepen their cultural and spiritual sensitivity and for faith leaders to acquire the skills and confidence to recognise and appropriately address the mental health needs of those with whom they have pastoral contact.”

The project began just before the pandemic, and was significantly delayed because of it.

Faith leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian, and Jewish communities were involved. It focused on two areas of London: Brent, and Kensington and Chelsea, which includes the Grenfell Tower area.

Close relationships were forged with faith leaders in the areas, and two-way training was offered, to build the confidence of faith leaders in mental health, and of NHS staff in understanding the spiritual needs of patients.

Bishop Mullally said that the project showed that “when assessments, treatment plans and interventions are informed by faith-based expertise and the faith and spirituality of a person is fully embraced, this represents the sort of significant step forward envisaged at the start of this initiative.”

The project was chaired by Professor David Sines, an Emeritus Professor of Nursing and Provost of Buckinghamshire New University, and a Health Education England Strategic Adviser for London. He said that people often relied on their faith communities to help them to build resilience through difficult periods of life.

“We are all engaged in a lifetime journey of uncertainty that requires us to build personal resilience to enable us to adapt meaningfully to enable us to acquire the capacity, confidence, and capability to respond effectively to the imposition of unexpected life events,” he said.

Suggestions for achieving closer working between professions included holding case conferences between clergy, psychiatrists, and doctors, at which a patient’s faith was recognised as an important part of their healing journey.

Bishop Mullally launched a programme this year to train churches to provide mental-health and isolation support to people in their community. Her Lent appeal this year also raised money for charities concerned with mental health and combating isolation.

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