The new organization aims to improve black mental health through the help of churches.


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American Foundation for Suicide Prevention workers and volunteers Victor Armstrong, Rev. Daphne Swinton, Markita Madden-Puckett, Tandra Rutledge, Rev. Dr. Frosin Rees-Smith, Vicisha Thomas-McKinney, Rev. Dr. Deloise Brown-Daniels and Philip Tyler. .Share on Pinterest
Pictured above are the volunteers and staff who were part of the first group of trainers for the ‘Soul Shop of Black Churches’. Left to right: Victor Armstrong, Rev. Daphne Swinton, Markita Madden-Puckett, Tandra Rutledge, Rev. Dr. Frosin Rees-Smith, Vicisha Thomas-McKinney, Rev. Dr. Delois Brown-Daniels and Philip Tyler. Image courtesy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Soul Shop for Black Churches, a new effort by the Suicide Prevention Foundation of America, is working to change attitudes and improve access to mental health services in communities of color.
  • A one-day workshop will train faith leaders to help identify and support members in their congregations who may be experiencing mental health issues.
  • It also works to eliminate the stigma of mental health challenges and the need for professional treatment.

Phillip Tyler lost his 22-year-old son, Devon, to suicide five years ago.

“I was raised by a black father in the Deep South, Arkansas, during the Jim Crow era. And he grew up, his father was a military man. [who taught him] To wear the mask. Never let them see you cry. Never show emotions in public [because] It shows you’re weak,” Tyler told Healthline. “His father raised him that way. And I raised my children that way. And I lost a son today because of this misguided view of masculinity, our emotional suppression.

Tyler, an Air Force veteran, past president of the Spokane NACP and a devout Southern Baptist, said his experience and newfound understanding of how family, friends and community can help a person deal with mental health issues inspired him to join a new program. – Aims to prevent suicide by giving black faith leaders the tools they need to help.

Soul Store for Black Churches It was launched in August by the American Suicide Prevention Foundation. The one-day workshop focuses on equipping faith leaders with the necessary skills to identify and support families in their congregations who may be facing mental health challenges and who are suicidal.

“The church has always been very important in the black community and it was the gateway to that community,” said Victor Armstrong, national director. Soul Store for Black Churches.

Armstrong, who is on the board of directors of Suicide Prevention America North Carolina, said that because the black church is “a place where the community looks for guidance,” it “makes sense that the black church would have a role in raising awareness about suicide.”

Armstrong explained that “Soul Shop” training involves helping faith leaders create “soul safety” communities.

He describes them as places where people feel they are in a spiritually, mentally and emotionally safe space, where they feel vulnerable and talk about the pain they are experiencing.

The workshops will familiarize faith leaders with a variety of resources they can use to refer others in need of care from mental health professionals.

“Obviously, we’re not training them to be clinicians. Taking a day’s worth of Soul Shop doesn’t make you a health professional,” he said. But what it does do is help people think about it differently.

Armstrong explained that one of the main goals of the workshop was to encourage faith leaders to talk openly about “how to live with suicidality, anxiety, depression and hopelessness in the church” and that it “doesn’t make you any less of a Christian.” To discuss and resolve these issues.

“They should serve people with emotional pain the same way they serve people with physical illness,” he said.

Organizations like Soul Shop for Black Churches were created in response to an alarming trend in Black communities: rising suicide rates.

According to the November 2021 report from Centers for Disease Control and PreventionIn the year In 2020, the overall suicide rate was reduced by 3%. But suicide rates have increased among the black population, an increase that began before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Armstrong believes that some of the factors contributing to this increase are the unique additional burdens that people of color carry.

“Racism is one of those things. “Some of the historical harms we face are unique to the black community,” he said.

Rheeda Walker, Ph.DProfessor, Department of Psychology, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, is a clinical psychologist who studies and writes about mental health and minority suicide prevention.

In addition to stressors outside of communities of color, mental health stigma within the community also plays a large role, she said.

“There’s a huge stigma, but in the African-American community, there’s even more stigma because of this perception of weakness,” she told Healthline. This can affect a person’s ability to talk about mental health challenges.

She added, “All these things are wrapped up in this web of, ‘Well, I don’t want to talk about that.’ And I don’t want to tell people my case, and such a traditional language says ‘we don’t do this’.

In her research, Walker found that blacks who had strong, positive perceptions of what it means to be black and who had a connection to a “higher power” were “less likely to think about suicide.” “To easily create a suicide plan.”

However, she said the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse by “adding gasoline to an already burning fire” when people cannot go to church in person.

“It’s a great idea,” Walker said of organizations like Soul Shop for Black Churches. “Being able to tailor prevention and intervention to specific communities is incredibly important. So I am very happy to hear that they are keeping this position,” he said.

Dr. Erica Martin Richards, Chairman and Medical Director, Division of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Sibley Memorial Hospital, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, enthusiastically agreed with Walker’s assessment.

“I appreciate this initiative,” she told Healthline. “The point is to figure out how to deliver services that are culturally sensitive, accessible and impact the right people to make a difference in outcomes.”

Richards added that churches have long played a role in helping members heal, especially in the black community.

“When we look at this from a healing perspective, these are the religious leaders who are identified as spiritual counselors, but they are the resources of congregations that are struggling,” she said.

By seeking help from mental health professionals, people are “not betraying their faith,” Richards said.

“This is basic mental health, and we want to make it clear that you can do both,” said Richards, who is a person of faith. “I believe prayer has a role in healing. I believe that prayer has a role to play in helping to heal, because there is no cure for mental health, but it does help to treat mental health issues.

“But I think there’s a role for modern medicine, for medicine beyond what prayer can do, and you have to understand that you’re not weak. If they ask for help, that’s really a sign of strength,” she added.

Richards said getting people to share their stories plays a key role in preventing suicide.

“This can be in the testimony in the church. “Sometimes people write for the church newspaper or the community newspaper,” she said. Sometimes talking one-on-one and identifying positive relationships with therapists or counselors can help introduce others to similar results.

Tyler says he will take every opportunity to do so. He explained that sharing his story provides a way to turn his grief into positive action.

It’s a message he shares with members at Restoration Church in Spokane, where he encourages parents to watch and listen for signs of trouble.

He knows that empowering stories can open minds and change hearts, and if sharing his can help others come to a better understanding of how to deal with mental health, he’s happy to keep doing it.

Tyler said he hopes for a future where mental health challenges are not isolated and, as any parent would do, their child is suicidal.

“He’s the one who pushes me to do this.


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