Developing Spiritual Support Groups

The goal of a spiritual support group is to ensure that no one feels alone in his or her struggle with mental illness. Sharing each other’s stories can be a liberating and welcome break in the silence that often surrounds mental illness.

A spiritual support group is a place to speak out and be heard in a safe, confidential, and non-judgmental environment, where isolation and stigma dissipate as a supportive community is created. A spiritual support group is not group therapy but a ministry in which members seek to help support others during their time of need and to grow spiritually in their relationship with God.

Mental Health Ministry Teams

A Parish Mental Health Ministry Team serves as “prayerful companions” for fellow parishioners experiencing mental illness, provide them with referrals, walk with them through the treatment process, and provide parish-wide education on the subject of mental illness.

The goal is to turn a parish into a place where people are not afraid to talk about mental illness – similar to how parishes have successfully accommodated those with seeing and hearing impairments, as well as other challenges.

A Parish Mental Health Ministry Team does not take on the roles of psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists. They simply supply “Christian love, prayer and true human connections” – in other words, the “Catholic spiritual component” that is often left out in the treatment of mental illness.

The volunteers on Parish Mental Health Ministry Team have either experienced mental illness, have family members of those who have experienced mental illness, or have worked with those affected by mental illness. They have a heart for giving. They share some of the things we have learned and continue to learn on their mental health journeys. They walk with others through their mental health experiences and support others in whatever way they can.

Team members are commissioned to serve clergy, staff, and members of the parish. The role of the Parish Mental Health Ministry Team is to provide spiritual companionship, practical support and to provide educational opportunities.

Developing Spiritual Support Groups

The following documents support the development and training of a Mental Health Ministry Team for Spiritual Support Groups. A minimum of three people should be considered for a team with the structure of a Team Leader and Team Members. If available, consider a Deacon or Religious Brother or Sister as a Team Leader or Member. Persons living with mental Illness should also be considered as Team Members.

There also may be interest from persons who hold active professional licenses or credentials in the mental health field. The Association strongly recommends following the guidance found within Chapter 5 – Legal and Ethical Issues in Mental Health Ministry of the “Catholic Mental Health Ministry – Guidelines for Implementation” published by the Catholic Institute for Mental Health Ministry at the University of San Diego.

The guidelines state the following: "it is our recommendation that health and mental health practitioners involved in mental health ministry assume roles that support the ministry directly (i.e., organizing, leadership, facilitating large group presentations) but do not necessarily involve individual accompaniment for parishioners. This practice helps limit the potential for dual relationships and confusion of the nature of the lay ministerial relationships on the part of the parishioner." Chapter 4 - "Differentiating Mental Health Ministry from Mental Health Treatment" provides further guidance on this topic.

Training a Team

Once a team has been formed, formal training needs to begin in accordance with a plan that has been developed. Please download the “Sample MHM Team Training Plan” below as a guide to help you develop an appropriate plan for your specific needs.

The Association recommends that the Mental Health First AID course outlined below be required training for anyone who participates in the Mental Health Ministry.

In addition, the Diocese may also require background checks and training for anyone involved in a ministry that supports those who live with mental illness in the same way that training is required for Catechists who train children or young adults. A training program called VIRTUS is required in some Dioceses. Please check with your diocese for specific requirements.

Mental Health First Aid

The Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers can help a parish community increase its mental health literacy by presenting a “Mental Health First Aid” training course at the parish at no charge to the parish.

What people in a parish know and believe about mental illness will have a direct impact on a parish’s ability to minister to people with a mental illness and their families. If people mistakenly believes that mental illness is due to a moral failing or character fault then that will only serve to increase the stigma, shame and discrimination that individuals who live with mental illness all too often have to deal with. On the other hand, if there is a broad understanding in the parish community that mental illness is, in fact, an illness that is not the fault of the person with the mental illness, then more compassion, empathy and companionship can be found in the parish community.

There are five main components of Mental Health Literacy:

  1. Recognizing disorders and signs of psychological distress.
  2. Knowledge of risk factors, causes and interventions.
  3. Awareness of mental health professional support available to the community.
  4. Attitudes and beliefs that encourage help-seeking behaviors
  5. Acknowledging when to obtain mental health information and guidance

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid is a course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The evidence behind the program demonstrates that it does build mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness.

Just as CPR helps you assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid helps you assist someone experiencing a mental health or substance use-related crisis. In the Mental Health First Aid course, you learn risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.

Topics Covered:

  • Depression and mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Trauma
  • Psychosis
  • Substance Use disorders

What is the time and cost of program?

Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour program. The Association can present the course in a one-day 8-hour session or in two 4-hour sessions on two consecutive days. The program will be offered at free of charge. Each participant must purchase the Mental Health First Aid manual which costs $20. The class size should be between 15 and 30 people.

For more information about bringing a Mental Health First Aid program to your parish please contact the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers at