LISTEN: Black Churches Are Doing More to Bring Mental Health to the Forefront

Churchgoer at New Revelation Community Church ALYSSA KAPNIK SAMUEL
Churchgoer at New Revelation Community Church

Hands are clapping, children are bobbing their heads and most of the elders are wearing their finest hats and polished shoes at the New Revelation Community Church. Reverend Donna Allen leads a sermon.

“And this notion of law enforcement interacting with people with lethal force? Jesus would cry out, ‘I am the Prince of Peace and I tell you, no justice, no peace, no justice!’”

This church seems to make a lot happen with very little. In fact it doesn’t actually have its own building yet. Today’s service is being held in a back room of the Omega House, a black fraternity that rents space to the church.

Some of the churchgoers are regulars and some are here for the first time. If you look closely, when the singing starts, you can see streaks of tears on people’s cheeks. Reverend Donna Allen says it’s a place to let go, and sometimes, with that letting go comes a lot of emotion.

“They’ll describe being very depressed, like I don’t want to go on, I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to live anymore,” says Allen. “They’re really describing things that are mental health issues.”

So she hugs them, she visits their homes, she offers whatever she can. Realizing it’s an opportunity for people to open up about very personal things that affect mental health, something she says the black church has not always been so accepting of. Some traditional churches believe that prayer alone can pull people out of dark places, but Allen doesn’t think that’s always enough.

“I was in a service Friday and the preacher said the Apostle Paul was bipolar and was talking in pejorative terms,” she says. “The audience was laughing hysterically and I don’t think that preacher meant to do the level of harm they did, but it turns out I was sitting with someone that was diagnosed with bipolar and it was so harmful. They wanted to get out of of that church.”

In her church, Allen tries to bring mental health care more into the open. She says that sharing her experiences can help people feel more comfortable talking about their own.

“I’m up front with them that I see a therapist,” she says. “I share with them that I’ve had periods of depression– not saying that I’m going through what you’re going through but I at least can identify.”

But she wanted to do more.

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