Shalem Mental Health Network
( www.ShalemNetwork.org) is an affiliate
of the EFC ( www.TheEFC.ca/Affiliates). Find more
Q and As at www.Faith Today.ca/QandA.
What is at the heart of Shalem’s
At Shalem we support couples trying to salvage a marriage, young
people working to overcome self-harm, seniors dealing with grief
and depression due to loss, adoptive
and foster children whose early and
repeated abuse makes relationship
so difficult, and women seeking to
leave domestic violence.
We partner with resilient people
seeking to overcome homelessness,
poverty, mental health and other
simultaneous special needs, and we
support workplaces, churches and
schools to have real, honest, respectful conversations that allow
people who have been broken by
conflict to repair relationships and
We especially do these things by
supporting churches and other
communities to care well for their
most vulnerable, hurting or trauma-
tized members. Our niche in the
mental health world is to develop
new, innovative partnerships be-
tween communities – such as
churches – and the professional
mental health sector. Each area of
our work seeks to demonstrate a
new relationship between these two
sectors. For example, by using the
Congregational Assistance Plan,
It is a privilege to be invited into
spaces of deep pain and healing,
and there encounter the God of
living hope and the extraordinary
courage of people.
Why are mental and emotional
health such important issues for the
Canadian Church to be aware of?
All of us are affected by mental illness – either we ourselves or someone we care about. Mental illness,
with the stigma still attached to it,
occupies a place similar to leprosy
in Jesus’ time.
Effective ministry cannot happen without having some awareness of the dynamics of mental illness. It means journeying alongside
people, making ourselves vulnerable in the process, and going to
root causes in the faith that we are
held in Christ’s healing hand.
Shalem’s work also includes clergy
wellness. What are some of the common
issues you see?
There are many healthy pastors.
But some time ago a University of
Toronto survey found pastors in
Canada have twice the rate of depression as the general population.
Factors around this can include
inflated, conflicting expectations
by church members, weak job descriptions, inadequate church
governance, and insufficient training by seminaries and denominations in understanding boundaries
and dealing with relational health
issues of congregants.
How do you care for yourself as a
I make sure to have activities and
relationships that are outside my
work life. I also make sure to take
breaks and holidays. I’ve learned
taking care of myself is a professional obligation to the people I’m
seeking to serve.
What is the best thing leaders can do
to stay emotionally healthy?
Know yourself. Pay attention to
your own internal processes, and
don’t compartmentalize or repress
negative feelings. Notice them and
deal with them. Put your family
ahead of your work life. And find
appropriate personal support, including from a trusted therapist or
spiritual director. /FT
Mark Vander Vennen
is executive director of
the Shalem Mental
Health Network, a
counselling network that
journeys with people
and communities toward
emotional health and
Helping people be well
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