In recognition of the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH) is highlighting the success of the Westchester Faith-Based Mental Health Initiative. The program, which was formed in 2020, is a partnership between DCMH, faith-based leaders and community mental health providers. The Initiative connects parishioners and congregations with local mental health service providers, focusing on the intersectionality of faith and mental health programs. 

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “The Westchester Faith-Based Mental Health Initiative includes an educational component, as well as peer-to-peer mentoring to promote suicide prevention efforts and mental health awareness to the faith-based and spiritual communities. If an individual is struggling with the loss of a loved one by suicide, or if they themselves are struggling with their own mental health, they may feel safe confiding in a religious leader. This Initiative makes that connection between the two.”

In March of 2020, Westchester County held its first “Soul Shop” one-day training workshop at Calvary Baptist Church in White Plains. The Soul Shop was hosted in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and DCMH.  The workshop was attended by over 130 diverse faith-leaders, designed to equip clergy, staff, lay pastors and faith-based clinicians with the resources and guidance they need to foster hope and healing in their community. 

Since 2020, over 20 Soul Shop trainings have been held in Westchester County, in addition to over 35 mental health awareness and wellness trainings for faith and spiritual organizations, including Mental Health First Aid and other related training. The Soul Shop training provides core guidance for faith leaders to respond to suicide and other impacts of desperation in their communities. The training is appropriate for those who lead a faith community (e.g. Pastor, Rabbi, Imam, Deacon, Minister) or those who are in a leadership role with members of a faith community.

The effort led to the creation of 2022 Directory of Faith Affirming Community Mental Health Providers. The Directory includes a list of providers who identified themselves as wanting to accept referrals from churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship with a sensitivity to the client’s faith. Each provider reported their comfortability in working with individuals whose faith is important to them, as well as information regarding how their faith or spirituality affect their view and practice, expertise in treatment modalities, areas of practice, afterhours availability and payment options.