How Our Spiritual Leaders Can Make a Difference

by | May 5, 2023 | 0 comments

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May has been gaining recognition by many faith
communities as an important month to reach out and connect with members in a different way.
Mental health is a complex issue, influenced by a variety of factors. Religious and spiritual
affiliation can be an important protective factor for mental health, helping to decrease stress by
creating feelings of connectedness, community and unity with the larger world.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 57.8 million adults
(20% of the U.S. population) experienced some form of mental illness in 2021. It is also
extremely costly to our society, with some estimates that it costs our U.S. economy $193 billion
in lost earnings each year. According to the 2021 Mental Health America (MHA) report, Idaho is
ranked 46th out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall mental health
status – meaning there is still a long way to come to support those in need in our communities!

While psychiatrists and psychologists are expected to increase in the state, as of May
2021, Idaho had under 150 psychiatrists and 700 psychologists statewide.
Some view mental illness as a personal flaw or believe that seeking help is a sign of weakness,
yet would never judge a cancer patient or person with diabetes as weak for seeking professional
support. Most individuals do not put their mental health crisis in the hands of a psychiatrist
or therapist; therefore, it is important for all individuals to learn about mental illness in the
same way they would learn about the signs of diabetes or a heart attack.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, increased social isolation, financial insecurity and health
concerns created many challenges and stressors worldwide. The pandemic has had a significant
impact on mental health in the United States, with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and
substance abuse being reported. Mental health awareness month is a time to be brave in
conversations with friends and family. It is far more likely that you will notice something wrong
sooner than a medical professional and you can be the first step to them getting the help they are
most likely not getting. All it takes is a conversation.

There are many things that can cause an individual to be more likely to experience an episode
of mental illness, including traumatic experiences, genetics and poverty. Women are more likely
than men to experience mental illness, as well as racial and ethnic minority groups, those living
in certain geographic areas and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The most common mental
illnesses are anxiety and depression. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses,
affecting approximately 31.1% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. Anxiety disorders
include common phobias, like the fear of snakes, as well as social anxiety disorder, post-
traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder. There are a variety of
successful treatments available, including medication, therapy and even virtual reality
treatments. Major depressive disorder affects approximately 20 million adults (8.4% of the U.S.

population) in a given year. According to the Kaiser Foundation more Texans report anxiety or depressive symptoms at 36.8% of adults.

One of the greatest impacts of depression is suicide. The CDC finds that the overall suicide
rate increased 30% between 2000 and 2020. The suicide rate in Texas is higher than the national
average. In 2021 there were 14.2 suicides per 100,000 people versus the national average of 13.5
per 100,000 people. Suicide is a symptom of major depressive disorder and is treatable with
quality interventions. Crisis hotlines like 988 and the text hotline 741741 are helpful, but simply
asking directly if you suspect someone may be suicidal can save a life. It does not put the idea in
the person’s head or make them more likely to hurt themselves. It shows you care and can create
a conversation that may create a lasting impact.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, it is important to seek
professional help from a qualified mental health provider. The National Alliance on Mental
Illness is a great resource and has classes and support groups. You can help fight the stigma by
advocating for mental health support in your community, being vocal and proactive about your
own mental health needs and encouraging fellow members of the community to get the help they
need as well.

Faith communities are on the frontlines of being able to intervene and create a less stressful
world for us all. Leaders in these communities are attending trainings about mental illness,
creating a supportive culture internally, and providing resources and a sense of connection. At Best

Self Therapy, we strive to partner with our faith communities and support the needs of their


About Alison Riley


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