The NELFT Chaplaincy/Spiritual Care Department hosted a multi-faith day conference recently. The event took place at CEME in Rainham on August 15.
The event was called Faith, Mental Health and Social Inclusion, and offered training and shared learning for faith community leaders, volunteers and faith visitors from across the region.
To find out more about the event, we spoke to the organiser Mirabai Swingler, who is the NELFT Spiritual Care Lead/Chaplaincy Team Lead.
The conference was held at CEME last week, can you tell us more about the event?
Around 50 local faith leaders, pastoral care workers, chaplains and mental health workers came to hear about how faith can be a protective factor in mental health and to learn from presenters who had practical examples of initiatives which improved the inclusiveness and hospitality at different places of worship, including Stepping Stones in Newham, and Friendly Places which is a national campaign that started in Dagenham. In the afternoon we shared our own experiences of the difficulties and explored what kind of support and training was needed in order to become better, more compassionate and confident providers of pastoral care for existing members of our congregation or newcomers who might be experiencing significant emotional distress or mental health problems. At NELFT we try to enable service users to stay at home whenever possible, so although chaplaincy is a vital resource for them when in hospital, what society really needs is faith communities who are confident to invite anybody in, including people with mental health issues - aware that one day it could be us.
What was the motivation for holding the event?
There is already plenty of evidence that faith can help people through difficult times in their lives, and this is probably partly because of the social networks and fellowship which religious groups can provide. For example, you can go to a Sikh temple at any time day or night and receive a free meal in good company, and many churches provide regular services at which the minister can be approached for pastoral support. But it is also an unfortunate fact that many patients we see as a chaplaincy service have lost touch with their faith community or are sometimes even treated in a way which is unhelpful or rejecting. We wanted to address these issues by providing a space to develop more helpful attitudes and better skills and knowledge about mental health so that all faith communities are as inclusive and welcoming as possible, particularly when people are most in need. Some religious, cultural and ethnic groups are also poorly represented in the service user population so we had a presentation educating the attenders about local mental health services so that they can encourage their people to get professional help when they need it.
As it was a big success – will this lead to further conferences?
We have received really good feedback about the day, and everyone who attended was incredibly engaged, honest and keen to learn more. We may put on another conference, but what might be more useful and sustainable is a support network which meets regularly to continue what we've started. We are all in this together. We are fortunate to have a significant Chaplaincy Service at NELFT which demonstrates the importance the Trust gives to spiritual care in our mental health services, but we need to continue to serve as a bridge towards resources in the community where clients can flourish and get on with their lives.
Thanks to Mirabai for speaking to us about the conference.
To find out more about the Chaplaincy team visit the NELFT website page at: www.nelft.nhs.uk/spiritual-and-pastoral-care