Learn, Share, Grow

A mental health toolkit for clergy and lay leaders from

Advocate Faith and Health Partnerships

December 16, 2022

Welcome to Learn, Share, Grow, a quarterly mental health newsletter designed for faith leaders, like you. This issue includes information on youth mental health, how to be welcoming to those living with mental health conditions, and a range of resources to empower you to support your members.

We hope you find this newsletter helpful. Please reach out to us with your questions, comments, and thoughts about future topics. We'd love to hear from you!

In partnership,

Amy McNicholas, Illinois Manager, Faith and Health Partnerships


Anya Gordon, Wisconsin Manager, Faith and Health Partnerships



How you can make youth mental health a priority in your congregation

In recent years, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges have increased among youth in the U.S. 

Before the pandemic, 1 in 5 children in the U.S. had a mental, emotional, or behavioral condition. Feelings of sadness or hopelessness among high school students increased by 40 percent between 2009 and 2019, data show.

Since the pandemic began, symptoms of depression and anxiety among youth have doubled worldwide.

The youth mental health crisis has especially impacted those who already were vulnerable. This includes youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, and others in marginalized communities.

The good news: feeling connected to family, school, and organizations, like a faith community, can make a positive difference for a young person living with mental distress.

Download flyer to share.

You can make youth mental health a priority in your faith community by:

Download and share this Youth Mental Health Toolkit with members of your community.

Increased connectedness and support are key to addressing mental health and suicide among our nation’s youth

Connectedness is an important protective factor for youth that can reduce the likelihood of a variety of health risks, including those related to mental health.

Connectedness refers to a sense of being cared for, supported, and belonging, and can be centered on feeling connected to school, family, or other important people and organizations [such as a faith community] in a person’s life. Youth who feel connected at school and home are less likely to experience negative health outcomes related to sexual risk, substance use, violence, and mental health.

Recent CDC research has found that youth connectedness also has lasting effects. Youth who feel connected at school and at home were found to be as much as 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence, and mental health in adulthood.

Source: CDC


U.N.I.T.Y. Squad: Where youth can be their unique selves

If you visit Claretian Associates’ SALUD Center on a Tuesday afternoon, you’d see youth from the U.N.I.T.Y Squad gather for friendship and fun in a safe and supportive atmosphere.

The U.N.I.T.Y Squad, a sub program of the South Chicago Neighborhood Network, of which Advocate Health Care is a partner, is a year-round program that provides leadership and development skills for youth, ages 14-17, and stands for United Network Influencing the Transformation of Youth. Tiarra Owens, Program Manager with Claretian, began the U.N.I.T.Y. Squad in 2018.

The program has four core curriculum components:

  • Leadership – learning development skills
  • Trauma-informed – learning the effects and ways to cope with trauma
  • Civic engagement – serving the community
  • Workforce and college preparedness – visiting colleges and exploring career options, interviewing, preparing resumes, etc.

“The main goal of the program is to help youth be leaders in their communities, homes, and schools,” said Pamesha Robinson, Youth and Family Program Coordinator for Claretian, who helps oversee the program. “The program offers a safe and therapeutic place where youth can go to be their unique selves and learn how to navigate this world.”

Learning about mental health and trauma-informed care are important components of the program, she says. For example, youth take Mental Health First Aid training and participate in meditation and mindfulness activities.

“It’s hard growing up today with bullying, peer pressure, and the pressures from social media, Pamesha said. “When they come here, they turn off their phones. We want them to be present in the moment. The mindfulness activities help them be present with themselves and those they encounter in their family, school, and community.”

Keep reading.


How to be inclusive and welcoming to someone living with mental illness

Courtesy: NAMI

Faith and spirituality can be a very helpful component of someone’s recovery from mental illness. A place of worship is a safe space for people where they can feel welcomed and have an instant sense of support and community, but how they are treated within this environment is crucial to that feeling of security. Here are a few guidelines to follow in order to include someone living with mental illness into your congregation:

  • Always keep in mind that a person living with a mental illness is a person first. Never define them by their illness. 
  • Check-in with the person or their family. Do not assume that the person wants to be included. A person might feel strongly about maintaining their privacy. If that’s the case, you can continue to check-in with them because what they need later may change.  
  • Ask them what would be the most helpful. They may have a certain kind of help in mind that they could use from the congregation, so it may be beneficial to ask.
  • Invite the family to sit with you at church services and events.
  • Making an effort to talk to them and show that you care and understand. People living with mental illness often feel isolated and talking with them alone can make a difference. 
  • Instead of trying to fix their problems, just listen. Many people just need to be heard, taking the time to listen to someone will show that you care without having to come up with a solution for them.
  • Don’t belittle someone’s mental illness. Everyone has occasional anxiety, depression, or some small form of a mental health condition, but this is not the same thing as living with a mental health condition. Don’t tell someone that everyone goes through what they’re going through, or that you know exactly how they feel. Also, if someone is expressing their problems, never tell them to ‘suck it up,’ it is hurtful and shows that you don’t care how they are feeling.

Keep reading.

Learn how you can become a Faith and Health Companion!

Jan. 5, 1:00-1:30 p.m.

You are invited to participate in Listen. Love. Connect., a three-part virtual education series designed to equip clergy and lay leaders – deacons, elders, congregation board members, ministry staff, and others - to walk alongside congregants living with mental illness and substance use disorders.

By completing this education series, you can become better equipped to:

  • Notice signs of mental distress, 
  • Confidently respond to those in crisis, 
  • Understand the connection between trauma, resilience, and faith.

Those who complete the Listen, Love, Connect series:

  • Receive a Faith and Health Companion Certificate,
  • Receive support through quarterly check-in meetings.

Download and share flyer.

Welcome, Felicia!

We are thrilled to introduce you to Felicia Houston, our second Faith and Mental Health Program Specialist to join the Advocate Aurora Faith and Health Partnerships team. Felicia will support our mental health programming in Chicago’s south suburbs and in Milwaukee.

With more than 20 years of experience in the mental health field, Felicia previously served for the past 12 years in the Department of Psychiatry at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial. Throughout her career, she has led workshops and presentations on mental health, faith, wellness, self-care and Stress Less Living. 

Felicia’s philosophy of care is inspired by Poet Audre Lorde who wrote: “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Felicia truly believes in this statement and has a passion to inspire and empower people to make self-care a priority. 

Felicia has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human development counseling from Bradley University in Peoria Illinois. She is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Mental Health Consultant, and a Consumer Wellness Advocate.

Resources for you and your faith community

Healing Congregations: Nurturing Love, Life and Hope ​in a Hurting World

A resource to help faith communities better see, share and connect to their own resourcefulness, their God-granted resilience and practices around theology, congregational and community life.

Written by The Love, Life and Hope ​Barefoot Guide Writers Collective

Winter mental health toolkit

The holiday season and darker, shorter days of winter can bring about feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression for members of your congregation and community.

This toolkit offers tips to help your members cope with seasonal affective disorder, the holiday blues, holiday stress, and social isolation.

Emotional Distress Quiz

With its traditions, family gatherings, and expectations, the holidays can be difficult. It’s normal to feel more sad, anxious, or depressed this time of year. The Spiritual First Aid team created this anonymous emotional distress quiz to help you determine if you might be experiencing anxiety, depression, and other signs of mental distress.

Mental Health Resources Toolkit

Faith and Health Partnerships

We work side-by-side with faith communities to promote health equity by mobilizing the transforming power of social connectedness and spiritual wisdom.

Our core belief: Drawing on the wisdom of our religious traditions and the best social and public health science, we believe that positive, mutual relationships and the intentional practice of faith are at the heart of what creates equitable health and well-being for individuals, congregations and communities.

Learn more about our work in English and Spanish.

We blend the strengths of Advocate Health Care with the strengths of your congregation to improve the health of those living in your community.

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