While we typically think of a therapist's office as a place for mental health support, a new training program for suicide prevention is showing up where you may least expect it – Black churches. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) launched Soul ShopTM for Black Churches, a new training program to help faith leaders, including church staff, pastors, faith-based clinicians and other lay leaders in churches to administer to those in their congregations who may be struggling with their mental health and/or who have been impacted by suicide. 

Launched in August, Soul Shop™ for Black Churches was created in response to the rising suicide rate. Despite the national suicide rate among overall Americans declining by 3% in recent years, it has increased for Black populations by 3.5%, according to the CDC. As the community continues to face suicide as a public health issue, church leaders are taking on a critical role in de-stigmatizing mental health treatment. Since church has always played a critical and trusted role in providing a place for civic engagement during times of social tension and crisis, there is no better place for hope and healing.

Soul Shop team members and AFSP’s staff and volunteers. Image: courtesy of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The training consists of a one-day workshop that equips leaders with skills to identify and provide emotional support for members of their congregation. They are encouraged to normalize speaking openly about stress, anxiety, depression, and suicide, without judgement. Additionally, they learn how to identify those who may need care from a mental health professional. The training focuses on:

  • The prominent role of the church in Black communities and how it can be leveraged for a positive impact related to suicide prevention and loss and healing.
  • How to identify the need for professional treatment and the range of resources available for those who may need professional care.
  • The role of societal discrimination in affecting suicide risk among Black and brown young people including statistics, trends and rates of suicide among POC.
  • Challenges of and ideas for engaging issues of mental health and suicide in Black churches.

“I personally know how important it is to have support and guidance during one of the most difficult experiences anyone can ever face as a human being,” said Phillip Tyler, volunteer and board chair for the AFSP Washington State chapter. “I lost my son, Devon, to suicide and know that many like me turn to our religious institutions during these trying times. It’s very meaningful for me to be in the position to equip church leaders with the understanding and tools that will help them support and care for people like me who have faced suicide.” Tyler is also part of the first cohort of trainers for the workshop. 

After the training, participants will be able to address issues related to mental health and suicide prevention as a natural aspect of their life and work. “It’s our intention that these workshops will lead to an ongoing, strategic effort to shift the way that faith leaders support community members who may be struggling, as well as knowing how to respond after suicide loss,” said AFSP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Yu Moutier. 

The first team of trainers implementing the program is composed of AFSP volunteers, staff, and church leaders. Soul Shop™ Movement has already started training church leaders in New Castle, PA; Buffalo, NY and Charlotte, NC. To bring this program to your local community or church, learn more here