Mental health in English communities a leading concern for clergy, survey finds

By agency reporter
February 5, 2018

Mental health problems in local communities are now one of the biggest social issues Church of England clergy encounter, according to new research.

A survey of more than 1,000 senior clergy has found that the proportion reporting that mental health is a ‘major’ or ‘significant’ problem in their local area increased sharply from 40 per cent in 2011 to 60 per cent in 2017.

Mental health is second only to loneliness as a key concern, with more than three quarters (76 per cent) of clergy reporting that loneliness was a major or significant problem in their local communities, a rise of 18 percentage points on 2011.

Clergy also reported growing concern over homelessness, with figures rising from 14 per cent identifying this as a major or significant issue in 2011 to 23 per cent in 2017.

The survey, conducted by the Church of England and Church Urban Fund, found that when informal help and signposting to other organisations are taken into account, 94 per cent of churches are involved in helping people with loneliness, 86 per cent with family breakdown and 83 per cent involved in supporting people with mental health problems.

Nearly one in five churches (19 per cent) runs a food bank, either alone or in partnership, with nearly all (93 per cent) supporting food banks in some way, including providing a venue, volunteers and donations.

Of the churches surveyed, 70 per cent run three or more organised activities for the benefit of their local communities such as parent toddler groups, community cafes, lunch clubs for older people, holiday clubs, youth work and night shelters.

Churches in the most deprived areas are the most active in their communities in terms of the range of activities they run, with 34 per cent of them running six or more activities such as night shelters, debt advice and job clubs.

Many churches are working in partnership with other local organisations, such as schools (78 per cent), other churches (62 per cent), and other charities (36 per cent), the survey found. Partnership working has increased over the past three years, including with local businesses (up from five per cent to 14 per cent).

Bishop at Lambeth, Tim Thornton, said, “This research shows the deep commitment of the Church of England to the well-being and flourishing of communities across the country, from projects such as lunch clubs for the elderly and parent toddler groups to community cafes, food banks and night shelters for homeless people.

“The Church of England is uniquely well placed with its presence in every community to respond to a range of different needs, increasingly working in partnership with other organisations including local schools, charities, and businesses.”

Paul Hackwood, Executive Director of Church Urban Fund, said, “Churches’ long-term presence in local communities means they are typically embedded in – and actively nurturing – networks of relationships. This report shows that they are playing a vital and significant part in responding to many of the challenges we face as a society, especially around issues such as loneliness, mental health problems and financial difficulties.”

* Read the full report here  and the executive summary here

* Church of England https://www.churchofengland.org/

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