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One Canadian classis, or regional group of Christian Reformed churches, has started a pilot project to help congregations give better care to people with mental illness and their families.

Classis Quinte hired certified marriage and family counselors June Zwier and Winnie Visser to help make that happen.

Mental illness is as common in church communities as it is in the broader society, said Zwier. She said most congregations have been surprised to learn just how common mental illness is.

In Canada, for example, one in five people will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. One in 10 will experience depression, one in 12 will suffer from anxiety issues, one in 100 will suffer from schizophrenia, said Zwier.

“We want churches to know that they need to take this up in the same way they take up care for people with physical illnesses,” she said.

“Mental illness is scary to people, but so are a lot of things until you get to know them,” Zwier said. So Visser and Zwier offer training to raise awareness. They also serve as points of contact for churches and individuals who need referrals to professional care.

At a recent training session for the pastoral care team at one church, Zwier said she was touched at the way people opened up and shared how mental illness affects them or their families. “There were a lot of tears when that happened.”

“By doing this we’re providing a safe place for people to talk,” said Zwier. “People are so thankful that their church is looking at this. Many haven’t been able to talk about this before.”

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