Soul Shop is using the church as a catalyst to combat suicide in the Black community. In August, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention launched Soul Shop for Black churches. This one-day workshop helps faith leaders in the Black community identify and support members of their congregation who might be struggling with suicide or mental health challenges.
Historically, the Black church has played a key role in establishing faith among members of the community. It has been a place where community members often seek “guidance” for clarity when issues in their life cause emotional distress. The organization hopes to foster a “soul-safe” environment where people feel comfortable mentally and spiritually to open up about the emotional pain they are enduring. The workshop also equips ministers and other faith leaders with resources they can use to steer congregants in need toward professional mental health care and suicide-prevention help.
“Obviously we’re not training them to be clinicians,” said Victor Armstrong, the national director of Soul Shop for Black Churches, per Healthline. “Taking one day of Soul Shop is not going to make you a health professional, but what it does is, it helps people think about it differently.”
Suicide has been on the rise in the Black community. According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Blacks or African Americans, ages 15 to 24. The death rate from suicide for Black or African American men was four times greater than for African American women, in 2018. Sadly, mental health care is often stigmatized in the Black community, which can prevent people from seeking professional care. Research shows that many Black adults often feel shame and embarrassment for seeking professional mental health care. Some Black men and women fear that they will be discriminated against if they seek medical help for suicide, due to historical bias and racism embedded within the public health system.
In its mission statement, Soul Shop says their goal is to “offer important resources that can address the two primary reasons people begin to think about suicide – a loss of hope, and a loss of social connection.” By building a strong support community with faith leaders and other members of the church, affected individuals may feel more comfortable talking openly about their mental health challenges. Armstrong wants Soul Shop participants to know that “suicide, anxiety, depression, and desperation do exist in the church” and that “it doesn’t make you any less of a Christian” to discuss the barriers impacting your mental health.
Dr. Erica Martin Richards, a mental health expert at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shared a similar sentiment.
“I applaud this initiative,” she told Healthline, noting how Black ministers have played a vital role in helping people in the community heal for years. “When we look at this from a healing perspective, then it’s these religious leaders that are identified as the spiritual counselors, but also the resources for congregations that are struggling.”
“I also think that there is a role for more modern medicine, for therapy that is outside of what prayer can do, and so you need to understand that you’re not weak. If you ask for help, that’s actually a sign of strength.”
Soul Shop is currently traveling to different churches across the U.S. to bring the power of mental healthcare and healing to faith communities in need. Visit their website for more information.
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