In the case of early mental health issues, or coping with the challenges of life’s daily grind, I would argue that churches – and of course other religious institutions – can do more to support individuals in their communities. The relationship between emotional health and spirituality is, undoubtedly, a close one which creates than window for churches to proactively nurture and empower , inspire and educate their congregations to embrace this relationship in a way to give clearer, more positive states of mind.

Looking over in the UK, where younger members of the British royal family have spoken openly about mental health challenges, it seems a key time for churches to rise and commit to become a stable and supportive body. Of course, supporting people’s spirituality is one of the most Christian (and Jesus-like) things to do.

Above all, Jesus was a healer. Healing the body was at the heart of his work, before going on to become a teacher and then a religious figure. Often to move forward in leading the church forward, leaders can benefit by looking back at his example in putting people’s needs as priority number one.

Possibly churches abstain from more thorough involvement here for fear of making mistakes. The trouble then is that fear can equate to mistakes, mistakes cause anxiety and anxious creates fear – it is a vicious circle.

However, I do not think it is too hard to help with mild mental or emotional health problems. From my expiring as a Church of England Priest, I would share the below steps in how religious leaders can use the fundamental teachings of Christ to work more closely with people in need of guidance and mental solace:

• Listening. First and foremost, it is crucial to offer this most basic form of support. Listening should never be underestimated as it is a key tool for building the bonds of trusts and ensuring people feel understood. Understanding works both ways as it’s also important for pastors to take the time to hear and understand why someone is coming to them and to respond empathetically in return. This empathy will allow people to, essentially, unburden themselves through openness and trust.
• Guidance. The church can play a very specific role in terms of guiding people to either see or accept the situation they are facing. Here, the benefit of common-sense advice shouldn’t be underestimated as, during challenging times, it can be the most complex task of all to understand and accept the issues in front of us. Those with even a thorough knowledge of cognitive behaviour therapy will maintain this as a ‘good practise’ starter approach.
• Joint prayer. It is my belief that this most simple of practises can be beneficial both psychologically and spiritually. It is powerful to connect with and embrace the healing power of Christ, and to do this passionately with great confidence.

Overall, I have repeatedly been surprised how powerful these techniques are in creating unity, trust and offering peace of mind.

Used together each step can help in refocusing the psychological energy needed for acceptance and change, helping individuals to connect more closely to their religion in order to find those necessary mental routes forward.

Author's Bio: 

Fraser Watts is a visiting Professor of Psychology and Religion at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Guest Lecturer at Durham University’s Department of Theology & Religion.
Over a career spanning several decades across the Church and academia, Fraser began teaching in 1995 as Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Science in the University of Cambridge, and becoming a Reader in Theology and Science. Fraser was Director of the Psychology and Religion Research Group in the Faculty of Divinity, Chairman of the Faculty of Divinity, Director of the Centre for Advanced Religious and Theological Studies, and a Fellow of Queens’ College.
Outside of universities, Fraser Watts served as President of the International Society for Science and Religion and remains active in the organisation as its Executive Secretary. Fraser founded the Cambridge Institute for Applied Psychology and Religion, where he holds the position of director. Fraser is a Priest in the Church of England and, until retirement, was Vicar-Chaplain of St Edward’s Church in Cambridge, UK.