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Pastors work to address mental health within the Black community through education

Pastors work to address mental health within the Black community through education
Posted at 9:29 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 23:29:03-05

Churches have been a pillar in the African American community for hundreds of years. The pastor- the unifying voice for everyone that walks through the doors.

"As a pastor, we’re not only charged with the spiritual care of man, but we are to minister to the total man," said Pastor Tyler Coburn, Sr. of Prince of Peace Temple Church.

He believes spiritual care also includes addressing congregants' mental health.

"Even when it comes to things like schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, so many times the stigma that comes along with that, people tend to turn it into a family secret or they don’t deal with it," said Coburn.

For many pastors, managing a congregation on top of working to address each person's individual mental needs can take its toll.

"We’re taking on too many burdens ourselves," said Pastor Bryan Hester.

Hester has been with Spiritual Minds Denver for more than eight years. Over the course of the pandemic, he says he's talked to other pastors who say they can no longer handle the growing demand for not only spiritual guidance but also mental healthcare.

"Especially in the mist of pastoring in the pandemic, where none of us signed up for this," said Hester. "None of us knew what was going to happen or how to make it."

Hester believes pastor burnout is mostly due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness within the African American community. Throughout the pandemic, he says he's seen far too many minority communities shy away from help.

"We have problems, we have issues, we’ll hide it," said Hester. "We even try to run up to the altar and shout and dance it off when truth be told… no, it’s not gonna happen easy like that."

According to a study from the Rice University Department of Sociology, the stigma surrounding mental health, along with the lack of access to adequate care, has left many minorities untreated, especially in the Black and Latino communities. The study also found that many congregation members feel safer talking with a pastor or minister than a psychiatrist or counselor.

"I think a lot of African Americans are afraid," said Regina Grace with Grace Counseling, LLC.

Grace has been on the frontlines of mental healthcare for more than 15 years. She says the stigma around minorities and seeking professional help stems from something far deeper than just resources.

"They feel they're gonna be judged," said Grace. "They feel like they're going to be discriminated, and that's why it's hard for them to be able to reach out for help."

For Coburn and Hester, the answer to easing the tensions surrounding mental illness, for both congregants and pastors, comes down to one thing.

"Education is the key, educating yourself to the signs and symptoms of certain things," said Coburn.

"I can lay hands on you and pray, and yeah we believe and trust in God… but there’s some more steps that you’re gonna need to take to get to this," said Hester.

"It's important to have a list of resources that the pastors can be able to tell their congregation, 'These are the lists of case managers or professional therapists, people that can be able to help you,'" said Grace.

Professionals that can help are so important, especially during a time when everything seems so uncertain.

"The more that we communicate with them, check in with them, let them know that we're here to heal with them and that you're not alone," said Grace.