Bishop Andrew has commended a new online resource which will help clergy to ‘signpost’ parishioners experiencing mental health needs to groups and organisations which can help them get treatment and support.

The Mental Health Handbook has been compiled by Rev Claire Henderson, who has only recently finished training as a mental health coach. It includes an extensive list of organisations in both dioceses – and in both jurisdictions – which provide help in addressing issues such as addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and in tackling problems such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and loss. The handbook also includes ‘wellness tips’ which offer advice on each of the problems featured. 

Rev Henderson says the handbook was produced in response to a need identified by clergy. “Lots of clergy have been asking for it, so it’s very much needed,” she says. “I started working on it last summer. It’s a resource for clergy to enable them to help their parishioners with their mental health. If somebody says they’ve got a problem with addiction, or they’re depressed, or maybe they’re struggling because they can’t afford to put food on the table, there are all those resources in the book that clergy can point them to. ‘My parish is in Derry. Let’s look down that list and see what support is available for them here.’” 

The handbook has one chapter which deals specifically with young people’s mental health. “We’re seeing such high rates of suicide among young people, nowadays, and I think it’s important for young people to be supported with their mental health and for adults to know that there is tailored support out there for young people – that it’s not all adult-based.

“There’s so much pressure on young people since Covid. Young people’s lives were curtailed for about two years, so they missed that social interaction, they have more anxiety with going to school, going out, the pressure to do well.

“People are scared to have conversations about mental health and don’t know how to approach it in a way that allows the young person to open up. I did a session in Glendermott recently where we had a really interesting discussion about how kids were bottling things up and adults didn’t even know how to start the conversation. I was able to make suggestions about how to do that – it mightn’t even be a conversation, it could be a text message, a voice note – anything that opens conversations about mental health is beneficial.”

Rev Henderson says she is alarmed at the lengthening waiting lists for accessing support, something she herself experienced after being referred for therapy. She shared her personal perspective over five weeks of workshops in the Glendermott parish, where people “could see the vulnerability of the trainer but at the same time that created a sense of openness and opened up conversations”.

Claire managed to secure funding under the Church of Ireland’s Mind Matters mental health initiative for two projects in her own parish, Derg and Termonamongan, but would like to see something being done at a Diocesan level. “I think there should be somebody assigned to mental health and to promoting how to manage mental health, how to support people with their mental health – even going out and running courses. From a parish level, we’re noticing an awful lot of hurting, broken people but there’s only so much that you can do at parish level, whereas, if you’re ‘hitting’ something at diocesan level you’re ‘hitting’ it harder.”

Bishop Andrew has thanked Claire for compiling such an extensive resource “on her own initiative”.  In a foreword to the handbook, he encouraged clergy to use it to find help for their parishioners and even for themselves. “The pandemic has brought to our attention the strain that can so easily affect everyone’s mental health. We now realise that caring for our own mental wellbeing is every bit as important as caring for our physical wellbeing.”

The Bishop wrote that we were blessed in the north-west to have so many organisations there to help us in life’s more difficult days. “It is my prayer that all of us would know God’s help found through His spirit and through the goodness of His people.”