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Guide aims to help faith leaders to offer mental-health support

by Alex Gladden | April 29, 2019 at 2:11 a.m.

Three graduate students created a mental-health resource guide for faith leaders to give to their congregants.

The University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service partnered with the Faith Network to complete the project. First-year master's students Katie Clark, Richmond Osei-Danquah and Adam Kleinerman worked on the guide.

The Faith Network is an organization that focuses on mental health, diabetes and obesity and works with religious groups to encourage awareness of these issues.

The students presented their findings on Friday at Heifer International, which is an organization that works to end hunger and poverty by providing livestock and training globally.

After conducting 23 interviews, they determined that people in faith communities would most like to receive the guide in pamphlet form. They also designed a format that would allow these faith leaders to put the guide on their websites.

The pamphlet includes information and contact information about groups that offer mental-health services.

Arkansas has a high number of people involved in religious organizations. The Pew Research Center shows that 82 percent of Arkansas adults identify with a particular religion. But the researchers found that America's Health Rankings classifies Arkansas 47th out of 50 states for access to mental-health care for 2018, leading them to conclude that it would be helpful to reach people with mental disorders through faith communities.

The students also saw that people in Pulaski County, which the guide focuses on, often seek guidance concerning mental-health problems from faith leaders.

"My husband and I are both faith leaders in the church, and they will call us, and they will talk to us, and we have to be the ones to encourage them to take that next step to see someone professionally," said Cemeka Agugbuem Smith, the executive director of the Faith Network, a statewide organization in Arkansas.

Agugbuem Smith viewed the students' work as a next step in dismantling stigma surrounding mental-health care.

"Yes, it's great to go to your faith leaders, but now let's get to the next step to make sure that we get to the root of your issues to make sure you have the continual help that you need that your faith leader in and of himself or herself cannot provide," Agugbuem Smith said.

In the guide, the students also tried to focus on presenting resources that were free because they found that cost was often a barrier to seeking help, Richmond said.

To partner with the students, Agugbuem Smith had to apply through the Clinton School. Next year, she said she hopes to apply again and work with another group of students to keep working on mental health.

"We're trying to make sure that we're keeping that same momentum," Smith Agugbuem said.

To improve care, there needs to be a change in the culture of how people view the issue, she said.

Smith Agugbuem said she would like to expand the Faith Network's presence in the community and encourage events like a mental health walk among religious groups and small groups that discuss mental health.

The students recommended that the faith community continue to build upon collaborations that already exist in the area -- although Clark noted that most of these partnerships are relegated to individual outreach programs and focus on physical health.

Keneshia Bryant-Moore, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Services, originally created the Faith Network based on a two-year grant in 2016, she said.

"It was really a need that we saw within the community," Bryant-Moore said.

After the grant ran out, the Faith Network moved under the umbrella of Vine and Village, a group that works to promote the Little Rock area through Mosaic Church, which is how the network now operates.

Metro on 04/29/2019

Print Headline: Guide aims to help faith leaders to offer mental-health support

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