Faith and mental health

Pastor Temi Odejide

World Mental Health Day on 10 October provides us with a moment to pause and think about our mental health and wellbeing, how we need to look after it, and how important it is to talk about things if you are struggling. It is important to remember that just as we need to look after our physical health, we also need to look after our mental health. We are faced with extraordinary times and many people find themselves in challenging situations. We’ve been talking to Pastor Temi Odejide about the role mental health plays in his work

You are a medical doctor turned teacher, trainer, preacher, author, life coach, consultant and motivational speaker – you are an extraordinary pastor! It would be great if you could introduce yourself and tell us how you came to have such an eclectic career?

My passion has always been to make a difference and my early encounter with the Christian faith further fuelled this drive in me. My dad being a medical doctor probably informed my choice to study medicine. However, even during my medical school days, I was actively involved and led many Christian youth groups and charitable efforts. After practising as a doctor for a few years, I knew my deepest desire was to make a broader difference. I became an ordained minister of House on the Rock Churches. This has allowed me to use all my gifts to better serve humanity and help others to reach their potential.

What are your views on mental health and what do you do for your wellbeing?

I feel that mental health is an often overlooked subject and yet it is super critical to our wellbeing. Even from a faith perspective, the Bible says ‘I wish above all things that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers’. This includes our mental health. In my experience, this has been a subject that has been stigmatised and often hidden, but thankfully we are becoming more and more honest about our mental health challenges.

Personally, I protect my wellbeing by seeking to live a balanced life; not neglecting any part of me. I feel that self-awareness is key to understanding one’s emotional cycles and triggers, and then knowing when to take a break. Having trusted relationships and friends with who I can be open and honest about what is going on internally is also key. I have identified the things that drain me and the things that feed me, and I am deliberate about prioritizing the things that feed me over those that don’t. I could go on and on, with the various things that I do for my own wellbeing, but these few are a good starting place.

Do you have any words of wisdom when it comes to looking after our mental health and wellbeing?

Just like we take care of our physical health we should also take care of our mental health – it should not be an afterthought and not something to be ashamed of. As an ill person is not ashamed to go to the hospital, so anyone struggling with their mental health should not be ashamed to call for help. My further advice on how to look after our mental health and wellbeing would be to consider your whole being and what you are doing for every part of you – spirit, soul and body.

Practically speaking, what type of faith community to do you have around you to refresh your spirit? What books and media are you feeding on to renew your soul and what physical recreation do you engage in for your body? Every part of us is connected, so imbalance in one area can impact the other. You must see openness and honesty about your internal environment not as a weakness but as a strength. A lot of these things we cannot do alone, so removing all hesitance to call for help is critical.

What do you think are the biggest challenges when it comes to mental health issues in young Black men in Islington?

I have seen first-hand that stigma often associated with mental ill health deters young black men from seeking help from others. Cultural stereotypes have created an image where young black men are expected to be stoically silent and strong; this only increases the practice of not seeking help. And unfortunately, when they do seek help, it is often from persons uninformed and that don’t know where to signpost them to for real intervention.

The resultant delay in seeking and accessing mental health treatment only compounds the problem. Women tend to have support networks and find it easier to talk, men on the other hand are more likely to engage in risky behaviour (smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol, drug abuse). According to statistics from MHFA England, men between the ages of 40-49 have the highest suicide rate in England – this can be linked back to them engaging more in risky behaviour.

Do people come to you with mental health issues? How do you support them?

As a minister of religion and lead pastor of my church, I am often approached on mental health issues. I have deliberately worked on creating an atmosphere of non-judgment, where people can feel free to come and talk about their challenges. We also encourage healthy friendships in our small groups that can offer help and support when it is first needed. I have members that have taken the highly recommended Mental Health First Aider training (which I am enrolled for myself), who have become our first port of referral for persons that might be struggling. We give support, information, and encouragement in seeking appropriate professional help from their GPs and sometimes psychotherapy.

Have you completed any training or courses aimed at supporting the mental health and wellbeing? If so, what would you recommend?

I am on the waiting list for the next mental health first aid programme which I sent some my key leaders to attend, however my medical background has uniquely positioned me to be able to help and signpost where necessary.

What role can faith leaders play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of the local community?

Faith leaders are very important in encouraging actions that lead to better mental health and wellbeing in our communities because they are often the first port of call to many and are trusted voices. First and foremost, Faith leaders should make sure they are taking care of their own mental health. They can seek and secure training in mental health issues, so that they can understand mental health and at very least, be great sign posters to people can get professional help.

In Islington, they can access a range of mental health training for free. Beyond being trained themselves, faith leaders can host workshops and meetings to create awareness and actively help remove the associated stigma. The destigmatizing of mental health issues can often be included in messaging. They can also regularly send volunteers for the MHFA training programme so there are more ‘hands on deck’ and so that more people in the community understand mental health from the same perspective – literally singing from the same hymn sheet!

You can find out more about mental health support in Islington on the Islington Council website. As part of World Mental Health Day, we’ve also spoken to Emily and Sarah who are mental health outreach workers.

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