“My life today is built on a spiritual foundation, living in the sunlight of the spirit,” said former Congressman Patrick Kennedy in remarks last month at a gathering at APA headquarters of more than 40 leaders from the faith and mental health communities.
Kennedy, a co-sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, described his own recovery from alcohol and substance abuse and the role that spirituality has played in that recovery during an event to inaugurate the Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership, a collaboration between psychiatrists, clergy, advocacy groups, and others aimed at fostering a dialogue between the two fields, reducing stigma, and accounting for spiritual dimensions as people seek care.
Leadership of the Mental Health and Faith Community Partnership gather after last month’s Steering Committee meeting at APA headquarters. From left: Paul Summergrad, M.D., Annelle Primm, M.D., Ginny Thornburgh, Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, M.Div., Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., and Paul Burke.
The American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) sponsored the event in partnership with APA and the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), a program of the American Association of People With Disabilities. Kennedy was joined in making opening comments by APA President Paul Summergrad, M.D., APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., Mark Perriello, president and CEO of the AAPD, and Ginny Thornburgh, director of the AAPD Interfaith Initiative. Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., director of APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity, spoke later in the program, and APF Executive Director Paul Burke actively participated throughout the meeting.
Kennedy said that both psychiatric treatment—including medication and psychotherapy—and the rediscovery of spirituality and community through the 12-step movement were vital in his recovery.
Other speakers included Charles Nemeroff, M.D., chair of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Miami Health System, who described the neurobiological and genetic basis of mental illness; Nancy Kehoe, R.S.C.J., Ph.D., a Roman Catholic nun and clinical psychologist who spoke about building bridges between faith and mental health; and Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, M.Div., managing director of resource development at American Baptist Home Mission Societies, who spoke about current efforts within the faith community to reach out to those with mental illness. Ramsey-Lucas is also the coordinator of the IDAC’s partnership with the APF.
In comments to Psychiatric News, Summergrad said that the meeting agenda for the partnership was ambitious but “reflects the scope of the challenges we face.”
He also emphasized that both sides had much to learn from each other. “There is much to be done to reduce stigma and to enhance education about and address the prevalence of mental illness in our society, so working together is imperative,” he said. “July also marks APA’s Diversity Mental Health Month, which matters because studies have shown that many groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans, are more inclined to reach out to a member of their faith community than to a mental health professional when experiencing signs of mental illness. APA is deeply committed to entering into a respectful dialogue with faith-based leaders and to listen, learn, and provide the best evidence-based education about mental illness we can provide.”
“Both sides have a distinct value to share,” said Levin. “Faith institutions have tremendous reach into communities. And APA can help in the training of future religious leaders, raising their awareness of mental illnesses and the availability of treatment. A stronger dialogue between clergy and psychiatrists can only help patients.”
The partnership had its genesis when Summergrad and Ramsey-Lucas met last year at the White House National Conference on Mental Health, hosted by the Obama administration to address gun violence and school shootings (Psychiatric News, March 21).
“We need to cultivate a culture of encounter within congregations, one that includes those living with mental illness,” Ramsey-Lucas told Psychiatric News after the meeting. “This partnership holds great promise for achieving this end by fostering dialogue among those working within different disciplines of faith and psychiatry yet who share a common goal of promoting health, healing, and wholeness.”
The meeting last month, the first concrete expression of that partnership, brought together an extraordinary array of psychiatrists and mental health professionals interested in the integration of religion and spirituality in mental health care, as well as leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. The latter included the Rev. Patrick Howell, S.J., of the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture; the Rev. Alan Johnson of the United Church of Christ; the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder of Mental Health Ministries; Rabbi Edythe Mencher, L.C.S.W., of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Sayyid Syeed, M.D., of the Islamic Society of North America Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances.
Among the leaders in psychiatry present were Richard Harding, M.D., past president of APA and APF; Grayson Norquist, M.D., chair of psychiatry at the University of Mississippi and a chair of the board of governors of the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute; James Lomax, M.D., director of psychiatric training at Baylor University School of Medicine; James Griffith, M.D., chair of psychiatry at George Washington University; John Peteet, M.D., chair of APA’s Corresponding Committee on Religion, Spirituality, and Psychiatry; and Robert Cloniger, M.D., a research psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine.
During breakout sessions in the afternoon, groups of eight to 10 participants brainstormed ways to create lasting bridges between psychiatry and the faith community. These included holding possible future regional meetings around the country; developing symposia on the intersection of mental health and faith for APA’s Institute on Psychiatric Services (see page 20); surveying organizations that are already active at the intersection of mental health and faith; identifying and updating resources and creating new ones to train religious leaders about mental health issues; and exploring ways to improve mental health education in seminaries and pastoral and continuing education programs, as well as in medical schools and psychiatric residency training programs; and to address the importance of faith and spirituality as a component of mental health recovery.
There was a palpable sense of excitement among participants, and many religious leaders expressed gratitude for the help of psychiatrists and mental health professionals in dealing with mental illness and emotional distress experienced by members of their organizations or congregations.
Kennedy closed his remarks with a call to regard the equitable treatment of mental illness as a human right and likened the movement for parity to the American civil-rights movement, saying both are rooted in a belief that all people are children of a common creator. And he said that in the same way civil-rights leaders captured the imagination—and touched the conscience of the nation—mental health advocates seeking to press the cause of parity needed to awaken the conscience of the American people “to the way we have historically treated people with mental illness.” ■