- Soul Shop for Black Churches is a new initiative by the American Suicide Prevention Foundation working to change attitudes and improve access to mental health services in communities of color.
- This one-day workshop helps train religious leaders to identify and provide support to members in their congregation who may be facing mental health issues.
- It also works to end the stigma around mental health challenges and the need for professional treatment.
Philip Tyler lost his 22-year-old son Devon to suicide five years ago.
“I was raised by a black father from the Deep South, Arkansas during the Jim Crow era. [who taught him] wear a mask. Don’t let them see you crying.don’t show emotions in public [because] It shows you’re weak,” Tyler told Healthline. “His father raised him that way. And I raised my kids that way. And this. Because of misunderstood masculinity, our emotional boost, I am without a son today.
An Air Force veteran, past president of the Spokane NAACP, and a devout Southern Baptist, Tyler shared his experience and how he can help his family, friends, and community cope with mental health challenges. He said his new understanding of suicide prompted him to join a new program — one that aims to prevent suicide by giving black religious leaders the tools they need.
Soul Shop for Black Churches was launched in August by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In this one-day workshop of his, the skills religious leaders need to identify and provide support to members of their congregation who may be facing mental health issues and family members affected by suicide. to faith leaders.
“The church has always left a very large footprint in the black community and has really been a gateway to the community,” said Victor Armstrong of MSW, National Director of the Black Church Soul Shop.
Armstrong, who is also a member of the North Carolina Board of Trustees of the American Suicide Prevention Foundation, said that because black churches are “a place where communities look to them for guidance,” the “role that black churches should play in raising awareness about suicide.”
Armstrong explained that “Soul Shop” training involves helping faith leaders create “soul-safe” communities.
He defines them as places where people feel like they are in a safe space mentally, spiritually and emotionally where they can be vulnerable and talk about the pain they are experiencing.
The workshop also makes religious leaders aware of the various resources they can use to refer others who may need mental health professional care.
“Obviously, we’re not training them to be clinicians. Taking Soul Shop for a day doesn’t make them health professionals,” he said. , what it does is help people think about it differently.”
Armstrong explained that one of the workshop’s main goals was to encourage religious leaders to speak more openly about “suicide, anxiety, depression, and despair in the church.” “It doesn’t make you a Christian,” he explained. Discuss and address these issues.
“Just as we minister to those in physical pain, we must minister to those in emotional pain,” he said.
Organizations like the Black Church’s Soul Shop were created in response to a worrying trend in the Black community of rising suicide rates.
According to a November 2021 report,
Armstrong believes that some of the factors contributing to this increase are the unique additional burdens carried by people of color.
“Racism is one of them. Some of the historical traumas we face are unique to the black community,” he said.
Reeder Walker, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, is a clinical psychologist who has researched and written about minority mental health and suicide prevention.
In addition to stressors coming from outside communities of color, she said mental health stigma within communities also plays an important role.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stigma, but there’s even more stigma in the African-American community because of this perception of weakness,” she told Healthline. It undermines the individual’s ability to speak about
She added: And I don’t want to tell people about my business.
Walker has a strong, positive sense of what it means to be black in a study she conducted, noting that black people who have ties to “higher power” are “more likely to think about suicide.” It’s low and makes it easy to create a suicide plan.”
But she theorizes that the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which people were unable to attend church in person, may have exacerbated the situation by “adding gasoline to an already pervasive fire.” attached.
Talking about organizations like Soul Shop for Black Church, Walker said: “Being able to tailor prevention and interventions to specific communities is very important, so I am really happy to hear that they are implementing this.”
Dr. Erica Martin-Richards, director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Sibley Memorial Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, enthusiastically agreed with Walker’s assessment.
“I applaud this initiative,” she told Healthline. It’s about understanding how you can perform outreach that touches on.”
Richards added that churches, especially in the black community, have long played a role in helping members heal.
“When you look at this from a healing perspective, it’s not just these religious leaders who are identified as spiritual counselors, but it’s also a resource for struggling congregations,” she said.
Equally important, Richards stressed, is the message shared by parishioners that people don’t “betray their faith” by seeking help from a mental health professional.
“It’s basic mental health, and we want to be really clear that you can do both.” I believe that prayer has a therapeutic role because it helps treat mental health issues, not just mental illness.
“But I think more modern medicine, treatment beyond being able to pray, has a role. So you have to understand that you are not weak. It’s a sign,” she added.
Richards said getting people to share their stories can play an important role in suicide prevention.
“This can be in church witnessing. Some write for church newsletters and community newsletters,” she said. “Simply speaking one-on-one and identifying good interactions with a therapist or counselor can help motivate others to seek the same results.”
Tyler said he would take every opportunity to do just that. He explained that sharing his own story gives him a way to turn grief into positive action.
Here’s a message he shared with fellow members of the Restoration Church in Spokane, encouraging parents to see and listen to the signs of trouble.
He knows stories have the power to open and change minds. If sharing his story helps others to better understand how to deal with mental health, he’s willing to keep doing it.
Tyler hopes for a future where mental health challenges are no longer stigmatized and where no parent like him experiences the loss of a child to suicide.
“That’s what drives me into this,” he said.