‘Mental Health Support Groups’

Shrewsbury – Awarded £14,500

The diocese of Shrewsbury employed  Helen Bassirat and Clara Donnelly managed this project to establish mental health support groups.14 Healing Masses with a specific mental health emphasis were celebrated in the Diocese and mental health support groups have been established. As Helen says, “It was always the intention to be open and welcoming to anyone whose life was affected in anyway by a mental health issue. The support groups were to be a place where individuals could come together to listen to each other and offer friendship and support. The group meeting would also be an opportunity for prayer and reflection.”

Guidelines for facilitators have been prepared by Helen and the format of support group meetings has been established.  People coming to the groups are asked to agree to attend six sessions as this would give them time to develop a relationship of trust within the group and they could review the situation at the end of six sessions.  Helen has also composed a series of leaflets with prayers, poetry and reflections to be used at support group meetings and with additional notes for facilitators. A series of ‘Open Meetings’ in parishes that had previously held a Healing Mass were held across the diocese and facilitators have been gathered in and trained.

The ‘Open Meeting’ would be an opportunity to meet with anyone interested in mental health issues in a parish or Local Pastoral Area; these would be advertised in parish bulletins. A leaflet was given to those who attended which outlined the spirit of a support group meeting.  This leaflet included information on the importance of confidentiality and listening.  (See ‘Guidelines for Facilitators’ below).  Excellent facilitators were recruited and all the facilitators had the relevant DBS checks and the Project Development Worker received supervision on a monthly basis by a qualified psychotherapist.

Here are some comments from the groups:

  • It is heaven sent
  • It is much needed
  • It’s a place to share concerns where others understand
  • It’s a prayerful meeting
  • Thank you so much, it has been lovely to talk to someone about my problems and it’s important to know that someone out there cares.  I know sometimes I talk too much but there are days when I don’t speak at all.  So thank you so much for listening and especially for the prayers which I shall treasure

What if anything would you have done differently?

A project of this importance needs more than twelve months to implement.  It is a very sensitive area of ministry and raising awareness and encouraging people to speak out about their problems is a slow process.  It is essential to build up relationships of trust with clergy and other pastoral groups within parishes such as the SVP and Prayer Groups.  It was an ambitious project and although in theory was spread over a one year period because of the liturgical seasons e.g. Easter and Advent; there are lengthy periods of time when it is difficult to arrange a meeting.  Therefore more time was needed rather than a need to do anything differently.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

“It has been a great privilege to meet so many lovely people who had the courage to share their heart breaking stories.”  The profound atmosphere at the Healing Masses has to be experienced as words fail to express the love which is shared.  The feedback from the groups and from individuals has been that, in spite of difficulties and obstacles, the project has been a success.  The success of the project lies not in multitudes but in the depth of faith and the commitment of members of the groups and in the facilitators.

Who, do you think, has most benefited from your project?

All those who have attended an open meeting or support group meeting have directly benefitted from this project.  Even where individuals did not feel they would like to be part of a support group they have appreciated the fact that the church takes this issue seriously and is trying to raise awareness and offer pastoral support.  There is a lot of scope to develop a project of this nature e.g. support groups for young carers, ‘drop in’ facilities in parishes that can accommodate such a scheme.

To hear Helen talk about the ‘Shrewsbury mental health project’ please see video below:

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