National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Sharing Hope: Partnering with African American Congregations
by Marin Swesey, NAMI Multicultural Action Center coordinator
With the release of updated materials and the announcement of new grant opportunities, NAMI continues to expand its signature outreach and education efforts to African American congregations across the country under the banner of Sharing Hope. This innovative program spreads a message of support and healing for those affected by mental illness by reaching out to faith communities, a place of strength for many African American families.
Zelphia Hunter, ordained evangelist and coordinator of Sharing Hope for NAMI Connecticut, recently shared her experience working with the initiative. In a webinar presentation she spoke about the uplifting and inspiring nature of her work—performing outreach to congregations through the program. “Sharing Hope presentations give people permission to speak about that taboo thing they were afraid no one would understand. Once that door has been opened and the dialogue has started—the journey to healing begins.” NAMI Connecticut, with Hunter’s leadership, is one of the more than 70 NAMI sites taking part in Sharing Hope.
The hallmark of Sharing Hope is a one-hour interactive presentation focusing primarily on the personal experiences and reflections of the three-person presenter team—an individual living with mental illness, a family member and a faith leader. Presenters lead participants in a discussion about the signs and symptoms of serious mental illness using the companion booklet, A Family Guide to Mental Health: What You Need to Know. The presentation emphasizes the importance of congregational support, features a selection of community resources—NAMI in particular—and ultimately demonstrates the possibilities and hope for recovery from mental illness.
The NAMI Multicultural Action Center developed Sharing Hope in 2008 with the understanding that limited opportunities to become educated about mental illness and high levels of stigma among African Americans prevent many members of this community from accessing mental health treatment. Knowing that the faith community provides key support to many African American families, the vision of this initiative is to build the faith community’s support, guidance and understanding specifically for its members living with mental illness. The significance of this support from faith leaders was noted by Dr. Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., deputy medical director of the American Psychiatric Association, in the recent Advocate article, “A Look at Black History Through the Lens of Mental Health”:
“Faith is an important strength from which people derive hope…It’s important that a person of faith know from his or her religious leader that they are not turning their backs on their faith by seeking mental health services.”
NAMI’s success in building trust among faith leaders is a key component of Sharing Hope. Among the wealth of preparation resources for facilitating the presentation, the initiative materials provide NAMI state organizations and NAMI affiliates with in-depth strategies and tools for effectively reaching African American faith communities and subsequently creating and sustaining supportive partnerships with congregations and their leaders. The 2011 edition of the Sharing Hope materials were recently released and new grant opportunities were announced for NAMI state organizations and affiliates.
The Sharing Hope initiative is open to any interested NAMI state organization or local affiliate committed to its policies and goals, regardless of grant funding. For more information visit the Sharing Hope webpage.