Faith and Mental Health Conference in Parliament

Faith and Mental Health Conference in Parliament

Sam O Davies, BUC Communications and Media

A diversity of faith leaders gathered in Parliament, Westminster on Monday, 4 September, to deliberate on the role of faith in dealing with mental health. The MP for Watford, Mr Dean Russell, enabled the meeting organised by the One Vision charity based in Watford.

The thought-provoking event brought together inter-faith leaders on a panel to discuss and address the critical role of faith concerning mental health. The panel also included health professionals in the discussions. In his introduction, Enoch Kanagaraj, the CEO of One Vision, said faith plays an integral part in many lives, providing guidance and support to many individuals and families across communities. He added that the conference aimed to provide a platform for faith leaders to share their insights on topics that deal with mental health, foster open dialogue, and encourage collaboration in addressing significant issues about mental health.

The five key themes addressed at the conference included:

  • The Impact of Faith on Belief Systems: The conference explored the profound effect of faith on belief systems, shedding light on the role of spirituality in mental health and wellbeing.
  • Challenging Ideologies Limiting Access to Healthcare: Participants discussed challenging ideologies that may impede access to essential healthcare services and ensure that mental health care is inclusive and accessible to all.
  • Engaging Faith Leaders in Supporting Service Users' Recovery: Faith leaders play a vital role in their communities. The conference emphasised the importance of engaging faith leaders as allies in supporting service users on their path to recovery and wellness.
  • Encouraging Positive Religious Expression and Practice: Promoting positive religious expression and practice is essential for mental health. The conference explored strategies for nurturing an environment where individuals can freely practice their faith in ways that contribute positively to their mental wellbeing.
  • Prayer and Healing – Getting the Balance Right: The balance between prayer and healing was a crucial focus of the conference. Participants explored how faith-based practices complement and enhance mental health treatment and recovery.

The conference featured inter-faith leaders from diverse backgrounds, bringing their unique perspectives and experiences to the panel discussion. After the panel discussions, a question-and-answer session followed, allowing attendees to engage directly with the speakers and explore the critical topics in greater detail.

Representing the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the panel was British Union Conference Director for Health, Adventist Community Services, and Women’s Ministries – Sharon Platt-McDonald. She spoke on varying aspects of faith and its mental wellbeing impact by outlining three key elements such as:

  • Destigmatisation:  How to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and utilise faith beliefs and expressions in ways that help and not harm individuals.
  • Education:  Providing resources and training to equip individuals to nurture their mental wellbeing and the mental health of others.
  • Protection:  Equipping individuals to safeguard their wellbeing and that of others in a mental health crisis, including signposting and accessing support and intervention services.

Sharon addressed the three points by sharing that she produced a Mental Wellness Handbook for churches, which supports churches in raising mental health awareness and encouraging emotional healing and wellbeing.

She has trained numerous individuals on the Mental Health First Aid Course and facilitated training on Suicide First Aid: Intervention & Prevention.

In partnership with One Vision, Sharon leads a mental wellbeing project with Hertfordshire Partnership Foundation Trust. She has developed the Four Pillars Framework addressing Faith, Culture, Diet and Exercise as vital interventions for supporting individuals from African Caribbean backgrounds and the clinicians caring for their mental health needs.

Dean Russell MP supported the event, stating, "I was pleased to attend the Faith and Mental Health Conference in Parliament, organised by One Vision. Faith plays a significant role in the lives of many, and it can profoundly impact mental health and wellbeing. By bringing together faith leaders and experts in mental health, we hope to foster understanding, collaboration, and meaningful dialogue. This conference is a testament to the importance of recognising and supporting the intersection of faith and mental health in our communities."

Enoch Kanagaraj, said, "We are delighted to bring faith leaders together in the Houses of Parliament along with Dean Russell MP. People who struggle with mental health disorders are frequently reluctant to speak up or ask for help because they are worried about the stigma associated with their condition. It used to be true for the faith community. However, things are now gradually changing as more faith leaders promote mental health awareness, and this event is undoubtedly focused on helping the vulnerable."

Mariam Hassam, Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said – “It was a lovely event, and we got to discuss important issues of mental health, challenges of mental health but also from the different perspectives of different faiths. I was listening to the lovely insights of thinking outside the box."

Rabbi Mordechai Chalk, from Watford Synagogue, said, "Events like this where different religions got together without discussing politics and just talking on one central topic where we all have troubles, we all struggle with and where we can all build together for a better future. If we take the politics out of it and have a dialogue where we can focus on each other's needs, we can create big change and harmony and a sense of true wellbeing across the whole community."

Other participants and attendees included Rumit D Shah (President of the Jain religion OAUK), Harmeet Singh Gill (General Secretary – Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall), Ajahn Amaro Bhikkhu (Amaravati Buddhist Monastery), Archbishop Angaelos (Coptic Orthodox Diocese of London), representatives of the Hindu faith, Josh Turner (Spiritual Care Lead, Hertfordshire Partnerships Foundation NHS Trust Public Health Director). Also present were the Adventist Muslim Relations Director of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Dr Petras Bahadur and from the South England Conference were Dr Augustus Lawrence and Dr Jude Jeanville.