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Mind Matters COI: our funding for the Church of Ireland’s mental health strategy

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Mind Matters COI: our funding for the Church of Ireland’s mental health strategy

The Church of Ireland is a vibrant part of communities both north and south of the border. People interact differently with their parish rectors than they might do with a colleague at work, or a friend. So the Church of Ireland wanted to explore how they could use their reach and resources to raise awareness of, and respond to, the mental health needs of people not just in the church community, but the wider community too.
How ‘Mind Matters COI’ came about

A group was set up to look at how the Church of Ireland could develop a long-term mental health strategy. Conversations began with Benefact Trust about the grants that were available for this type of project. Proposals were put forward for a multi-year grant, focused on helping to create lasting change within the Church.
“It was a good partnership with Benefact Trust from the start. We received the go-ahead from them to put in our proposal, which was successful; and ‘Mind Matters COI ’was launched on World Mental Health Day in October 2020. Right from the start there was great support for this across the Church of Ireland,” explained Eddie Hallissey, Human Resource Manager and Project Team Member of Mind Matters COI.  
Essential funding for an evidence-based approach

The project was designed to be evidence based, which required a significant piece of primary research. A survey was sent out and completed by over 50% of all Church of Ireland clergy and over 1,300 lay members.
The results highlighted that faith was considered an important and integral part to good mental health. It also found that the stigma surrounding poor mental health was an issue in the Church. By reducing (and one day hopefully eradicating) this stigma, more people will feel as though they can talk openly about mental health issues. Another key piece of learning was that a large number of clergy felt they would benefit from having greater support for their own mental health. The report can be found here
How Mind Matters COI put research into action

Following the research, the project was centred around two key areas - training and seed funding:
1 - Training initiatives

Training was put into place to support clergy and lay members to increase their mental health awareness, help them deal with burnout and stress, and to understand and tackle the stigma around mental health. Over 475 people attended mental health awareness training and all people managers working for the central church received training in leadership and management – helping to create a culture of mental health awareness in their own churches.
Clergy and pastoral carers are often the first people to be approached by those experiencing a mental health difficulty, and their day-to-day activity brings them in contact with people experiencing anxiety, illness, bereavement, the search for meaning, and thoughts of self-harm. In response to this, Mind Matters COI also implemented a Clergy Assistance Programme for all clergy and their households. Recognising how crucial this programme is, provision has been made for this to be a permanent programme moving forward.
2 – Seed funding initiative

The seed funding initiative, aimed at supporting mental health promotion at a local level across the Church of Ireland, was launched at the General Synod in May 2022. 92 applications were received from every diocese within the church. As it wasn’t possible to fully fund every application, the decision was taken to part-fund as many projects as possible, with 74 of the applications receiving funding. 
The projects included a variety of themes from the development of a community garden in Derry, where people can come to unwind and relax; to a community choir where people can express their emotions and improve their mood; and the establishment of a friendship café to encourage people to support each other through hard times.
Everyone involved with the seed funding programme gained skills, knowledge, confidence, awareness, understanding and engagement. In keeping with the themes garnered from the research, the projects aimed to look at how stigma around mental health could be reduced, connections strengthened and how faith could support those struggling with their mental health.
The All-Island Conference

The Mind Matters COI conference took place on Friday 20th October 2023, attended by over 300 people. It was an incredibly positive reflection of the project’s progress, and the feedback was extraordinary. 
It’s clear that Mind Matters COI is helping the Church of Ireland to become more mental health friendly, and as a result, it was announced that there has been a commitment from the central church to resource Mind Matters COI for a second phase from 2024 to 2029. 
It is encouraging to see how openly churches across the whole of Ireland have embraced the project and it is hoped that this will be a blueprint for churches far and wide.
If you’ve got a project that’s focussed on making a transformative difference in communities, find out more about our Community Impact Grants Programme.
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