Powerful advice for creating accessible mental health resources in your Church

Q&A with Minister Patrick Genova + Clinical Counselor Sajjan Sharma.

Patrick and Sajjan were kind enough to speak candidly with us about the importance and impact of providing accessible mental health resources to church members. As aware3 partners, they saw an opportunity to utilize their app as a powerful vehicle for spreading spiritual + theological guidance as well as advice from the clinical world.

Together, they have created a supportive and educational space where church members can turn to for relevant resources, weekly videos and even to ask Sajjan questions directly—all from the “God and Mental Health” button in the ICOC NE app.

See how they’re shifting culture and impacting lives in the full Q & A below:

What is your favorite thing about the button “God and Mental Health” in your app?

Patrick: For me, it’s just the fact that we have it and [everyone] has access to the resource. It’s an important thing. Mental Health can be stigmatized a bit, well a lot sometimes. It depends on where you are. It’s so important to unlocking the best you can be in Christ. Then for yourself, and your family. I just really like the fact that it exists and it’s pretty straight-forward and simple to get where you need to go.

Sajjan: As I think about the question, the thing I like most about the button is that it helps us to redefine the integration of mental health and God. A lot of people think it’s mutually exclusive, some even go as far as to say that they work against each other—that if you are faithful, that there should be no mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. And yet, we’ve learned that not to be true. We see it repeatedly within scripture. Many of the main characters within the Bible were men and women that suffered from mental health issues. There is this ability to co-exist and to work together.

I think this button creates a cultural shift in the way that we think about God primarily in accordance with mental health. And that’s what I’m most excited about in regards to this button and what it offers.

The ability to redefine for our church culture what that can look like. 

What inspired you to create this button to feature?

Patrick: I presented the app within our fellowship of churches and it was received really well and Sajjan had the vision for it. It would be really great to have something on this app to really make sure that we can speak to this need. And that’s his gift and that’s his area of expertise. And as somebody where that’s been something I’ve wrestled with throughout the years trying to figure out the intersection. When he started bringing that up I was like “Wow, this is amazing.” That was part of it for me at least on my end.
Sajjan: First I gotta say this, Pat has done just an amazing job with this app. He has really put it together. He put in the hard work necessary to make it excellent and get it out there to the people and make it accessible. It’s just been impressive. So when he came out and first started talking about the app I was dubious. I was like that’s just what we need, another point of contact. I’m like AHHH (throws hands up!). As a church leader I’m like how many points of contact can we have? We’ve got facebook, we’ve got email, we’ve got text. I’m like, “He wants to create another one?!” I didn’t buy it … at first. And then I thought about it. I kept reflecting on it and I thought to myself, “You know something, If I believe what I preach, which is unity, I believe there needs to be some vehicle that we use to unify our churches, our people. We need ligaments. This could be a great ligament. So, I first had to buy into the app concept. 

The second thing was then I felt like a lot of the language that Christians are beginning to use comes from pop psychology. And, I get concerned about that. Because, people say stuff and I’m like, Ahhh! That’s kind of right…but not really. I would never say it that way. And I’m trained. I wanted to offer our brothers and sisters in our fellowship a place where they could turn to and have a solid theological foundation and then be able to build some of the more secular thoughts from the more clinical world around that. That is what I was looking to do. And Pat jumped in and he loved the idea and that’s what we’ve been doing.

Pop Psychology: 

which is short for popular psychology, is often based on an “urban myth” type culture. That means that a theory may have been heard for so long and spread so far that the general public believes it. These theories are often written about in magazines, discussed on talk shows, and spewed forth by non-psychologists.

Source

Patrick: It’s been really great working together and collaborating on it. The app in general is unifying as well. Working with Sajjan has been incredible. Working on the app has given me the inside track even on hearing so much of this stuff, It’s been just such a benefit to me too, personally.

When you were brainstorming around this button, what information was going to be housed there? How were you going to have it set up inside the app? What led you to choose using a feature hub for this specific button?

Patrick: We have a form to “Ask Sajjan”. Everybody sees the videos that Sajjan does weekly and people see them and they might have a thought or a question, or they might want to go a little bit deeper. They have the ability right then and there to ask Sajjan a question. That can lead to an idea for another video or if it’s something that’s confidential then Sajjan will just help in whatever way he needs to. I think that the feature hub gave us more flexibility with being able to pull from really any kind of medium that we needed to. It made the most sense, in that way.

There are a lot of different options you can go with in the app. The feature hub is incredible because it kind of doesn’t matter that much where the resource is found. It can be a podcast, audio, video, an article, an rss feed, it can be that you write something in the announcements, and you can also put a form in there.

Sajjan: The feature hub tool gave us the ability to provide a lot of material. And we figured it just might be popular enough, and there might be enough content where we could utilize that. That’s how Pat chose it and ran with it.

Sajjan: With a feature hub you can do just about anything. It doesn’t limit you. Even when I convert the videos we do to podcasts, we have it as a video form, because some people don’t necessarily like looking at a video even though Sajjan is so easy on the eyes! Some people just want to listen and do their thing, wash their dishes, clean and all that. So I think it gives you a lot to work with. 

How are you encouraging your members to access this feature inside the app?

Sajjan: As an evangelist, the way that I encourage people to utilize this particular app and get access to it, is I just repeat it. You say it enough times, whether it’s an announcement, and then you provide content on there that people want to access. I gotta tell you, the app is wonderful. You can do push notifications. If there’s a snow storm, which happens up here once in a while, we can cancel service like that (snaps). Instead of having to trudge through emails, write a group text to a bunch of small groups, we can send it to everybody that has the app and they get it instantaneously. And so, as they learn and experience the utility of it, it’s been really productive in terms of getting them on it. But, as an evangelist I just have to keep saying it. I have to keep encouraging it. Somebody told me, “Sajjan, when are you going to stop being an advertisement? When are you just going to let us be.” And I was like, “Well, are you on yet?” And he goes, “No.” And I’m like, “Well, then.”

Patrick: That’s amazing! I think what’s so cool about this is that this partnership with me is doing stuff in terms of communication. My wife and I also lead our Youth and Family Ministry here in Southern Connecticut. So, being able to partner with a church leader that sees the vision and is also encouraging our members. I think without that  buy-in it becomes a lot harder to push the app. Because at first it’s, “Okay, what is this? It’s confusing.” The partnerships are invaluable. 

On the app side of things, how we have people engage is whenever we post a new video we will send out a push notification to everybody who has the app. We’re trying to get into a rhythm. We have weekly videos and so typically those will drop on a Thursday. We put the video up and I put it on the feature video button and then I’ll send out a push notification letting people know, “Hey, new feature video in the God & Mental Health button. Click here.” People over time just know where to go. That’s on the push notification side. I try to replicate everything we are doing on the app on the social media side of things. We have instagram, we have twitter, we have tik tok. I had to start from scratch with all of these, and the app has so much incredible content it’d be a shame to not put this in the hands of whoever. So social media is the outreach part of the app and getting that information out there. And internally we use push notifications that’s for sure.

Check out Patrick’s amazing social media efforts. We are huge admirers.

When you first launched this button inside your app how did your church family respond to it? What was some of the feedback you received?

Sajjan: Especially here in the Northeast it was really well received. They tend to be pretty open to ideas like that and receptive to it. It was received really well. But are they going to tell me “No, I didn’t like that.” I’m not sure. (laughs) 

Patrick: That’s where I come in. I did a survey in the app to find out what people like, what people don’t like. They had the ability to answer things anonymously. We also have a feedback button in our app and I also see our analytics. The “God & Mental Health” button is doing really well. A lot of people like it and some of the feedback I got back on the survey were people that were really grateful that the resource is there. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s only been, “Wow, this is so needed.” “Thank you so much.” 

I’m in a Facebook group for our worldwide fellowship and there’s like 30,000 members on there. I’ll post the videos Sajjan does on there as well just to let people have access to this good stuff. It’s always positive. “Thanks for sharing this.” “Thanks for posting. I appreciate it.” It’s been really encouraging overall. 

We’ve been able to tackle some real topics over the last year and half. I know I feel the effects of a year and a half in a pandemic and everything that’s happened. It’s been a lifeline for me as well. And I know for a lot of our members it’s been a lifeline. I’ll send Sajjan some suggestions, some thoughts I had or conversations I’ve had. “Here’s some things that might be cool” and he just does it. It’s really through his experience and it’s been great to speak to things in real time.

How has this helped you connect to your community around you?

Sajjan: The connection to the community is something the church is always trying to do. We’re always trying to make that happen. This offers the community language it already is currently interested in. It’s interested in some of the psychology that runs in the world and runs in people’s lives. And so, they are drawn in by it.

And honestly psychology does a good job of telling us all of the things we do wrong, even perhaps why. But really it’s our walks with God and our relationships with God that does the healing. So to bring those two pieces together  it really is miraculous.

It’s pretty amazing. So to be able to get that step in, that foot in the doorway that our communities can understand. It gives us practical ways to help the community in dealing with some of the challenges that I think all of us are going through, especially with Covid.

Patrick: This button, we are figuring it out as we go. It’s taking Sajjan’s experience, what he knows and it’s moving this information into a different platform that’s super accessible to a lot of people. And so with that, the “Ask Sajjan” was an idea that came up. A way to get interaction with Sajjan. I think the next step is going to be figuring out a way, whether it’s through Facebook groups or building that community outreach component. I know for me it’s really awesome to be able to share with the teens we minister to, or to be able to share with someone I might be having a deep conversation with. I can say, “Hey, check out this app. Do you know that these resources are there?” It’s this feeling for them too that, “Wow, this is a place where I’m going to be taken care of. Where they are going to care about these things that are really important and deep.” We’re not going to say, “Here’s what you gotta do. Go for it.” We care about you as a person, a whole person. That gives me a great level of confidence as well, as I share with people about the app.

Sajjan and I are thinking about doing some Instagram Live conversations about some of the topics. That’s kind of our next thing too because this is really important. We’ve got to make that happen. I think “A Conversation with Sajjan” would be phenomenal.

Moving forward with this button, what is your vision for it? Do you have a strategy for when you are going to add new content? How are you planning on keeping the interest in it alive?

Patrick: What’s really cool is Sajjan is a co-founder of Crosspoint Clinical and they have a team of people who have different areas of expertise. It’s funny you mention, “what’s the plan?” We have on the team now, people on the Life Coaching side and are really good at mediation as well. And we are talking about Christian meditation. This idea of thinking about a scripture and meditating on it like David talks about in the Psalms. I’ve done these meditations. I start my morning with a lot of these meditations. I’m like, “More people need to know about this. This is a lost biblical practice and spiritual discipline.” It has added so much value to my life. To answer your question I’m really excited about it obviously. We have more people we are adding to the team with different sets of gifts but within the same kind of topic of Wholeness and Mental Health. We have life coaches now and Christian guided meditation in there. That’s one of the ways we’ve ramped it up. 

Sajjan: Part of our vision is to be able to utilize the body (I’m referencing the church) in its fullest capacity. There are members in our church who have so much to offer and they have mastered Christian disciplines that perhaps we haven’t. Meditation being one of them. But, there are other things, other things that they are utilizing, Electodivino, Scriptural Reflection, there are these tools that are out there we want to be able to bring in. The mental health piece, there is always content for that. We can always talk about the way that the mind works, the way that our personalities interact, relationships with us and the world, relationships with us and our loved ones. We can do family mental health. We can do couples mental health. We can do all sorts of things. There is an abundance of resources in terms of content. What we are looking to do in terms of vision is to expand it so we really are using the breadth of the body, and bringing them into it as well.

Do you have any advice for any other churches or community organizations looking to set up a resource button similar to your “God + Mental Health” button?

Sajjan: I do think there are some practicals I can speak to, not as a clinician, but I’ll speak more as an elder and an evangelist. It’s more important for the person that is leading the church or this particular charge can be a Deacon of Technology, or if you have some person on staff that has some level of authority and buy-in. That this is something that they believe in. And it’s not just a job for them to do, but that they really believe in it. This is important because if you don’t really believe in it, then it might start off well, but it doesn’t keep going. And this is one of those things that needs for us to sustain the momentum of minimum 6-8 months to be able to see any real positive feedback. Then that positive feedback it’s exponential in it’s return. But it does really require that front end work. That front end work requires the person at the top making the decisions to be sold out on this particular concept. 

The second thing is I think you need to have the connections and the resources, the expertise. The people that are out there who are perhaps doing it and try to solicit their participation. And you want to be very careful with this. You’re not looking to burn people out. Remember again, this is a marathon we are running, this is not a sprint. We’d rather have someone give us a creative project once a month than every single week. Much rather than skip weeks. We’d rather them be consistent, than capricious and eventually burnout. That’s what we’re looking for. We need that expertise, and soliciting that expertise in a way that really manages their expectation and their ability to function within the team and work well. When we brought in the meditation team the first thing that I asked was, “Please just make a calendar for 6 months. Tell me what you can reasonably do with all that you have. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m asking you to tell me what you can do.” And when they were able to do that, they were ambitious, but they were right on top of it. They got the calendar together and they’ve already started kicking out months of material. THEY have begun soliciting other experts to begin working on behalf of the app. And we see this roll. But you have to do it well and you have to do it right. And I think that’s where Patrick’s vision and his ability to infuse that into someone else. Really it’s his desire to see this through, his vision to make sure this works I think is what’s driven it and I’m very grateful for it.

Patrick: Sajjan hit the nail on the head with the partnerships and having the right people. Speaking to this topic, obviously it needs to be handled with a lot of care, super deep. You need people with expertise in both fields. So finding somebody that is an expert in mental health but also an expert in God and theology, that’s a very unique skill set. When you find it, it’s special. Sometimes you can put it together with a holistic approach, a wellness or life coaching if you don’t have that person. I was actually talking to another church leader about the app the other day from out on the West coast and he called to ask me how we got it up and running. “How did it work?” He was mentioning that he doesn’t have someone to do this thing or do that part. What I shared with him is that the app in itself brings unity, because of the team working effort it becomes. It’s this really great thing that draws people in together. If I were a church leader, non profit leader, or business leader I would say even if you don’t know who’s going to do everything, still go for it and you’ll be surprised where people and gifts come from. And when they come and they put their hand up and say, “I want to help.” be thorough about the process in the conversation. When Sajjan brought it up to me, a cofounder, church leader, and mental health clinician, it became a no-brainer to partner together. It wasn’t even that we had the button, it’s that we had the app, Sajjan and I spoke and here comes the button. People want to use their gifts to help other people. I think that’s what I’ve found with the app. 

Sajjan: I want to echo Pat’s regards about the app itself acting like a ligament. Acting as this vehicle that connects different people and different talents in different places and spaces. Because it really does. But it does require for the central hub, the person that’s doing it all to be sold out for it. It really does require that. I’m going to repeat that. Pat takes that for granted because that’s who he is. I see the value of it because of my role in this. And if we didn’t have him or someone like him with that mindset, I’m not sure it would have done as well as it is doing.
Patrick: Amen, God’s been really good to me and I really appreciate the partnership with you guys. I’ve said this many times, but it’s been an incredible working experience with you and just how helpful you are every step of the way. I can’t thank you guys enough.

Do you have a success story around one of your members and how they were able to engage in a meaningful way with your “God + Mental Health” button?

Patrick: When I did a survey about “What did you like most about the app? What’s your favorite button? Is there anything you want us to add?” I was reading through it and I saw one respondent, and they had the option of doing it anonymously as well, they said, “The God + Mental Health button is my favorite part of this app.” Keep in mind, I’m a Youth + Family Minister. It means so much to me that we’re investing in the youth and that we understand what they are going through as well. It’s a tough age. It’s a tough thing to be a teenager. I say that to say, I looked at the age of this person and it was a teenager that said that. And that warmed my heart so much to know that we’re actually reaching teenagers through this button on the app.  This area of mental health and teens is huge because of just how much they go through. And I know because I talk to them. They feel a lot and it feels so intense. And Sajjan has been a resource for me over the years. I call him and pick his brain on how to be there and really support our teens. I was surprised to see a teen (normally a teenager does not take the time to do a survey). The fact that a teenager took the time to take the survey and said it’s because of the God + Mental Health section. Knowing that there are teenagers out there accessing this and knowing about it means so much. This is a new app relatively speaking and I’m really looking forward to many more incredible stories like that.

Patrick: It’s curated content. It’s stuff we know is good. That’s one of the things I share with people about the app. Parents are like, I don’t know about this social media and everyone has different thoughts on that as a parent. And obviously as youth minister I’m very respectful of whatever parents think about that. But I can share if their kids are allowed to use any apps at all I can share,

“Hey, we have this app that’s curated by trusted people that you know. And there is also a social media feed in there. They can have a little bit of everything. And as they are in there poking around they may stumble upon something that can really inspire their faith as well. Or answer a doubt they may be scared to talk about openly.”

Thank you, Patrick and Sajjan for your powerful candor and advice. We know this discussion will be so helpful and inspirational to fellow churches. We are so grateful to have church partners like you!

If you’d like help setting up a mental health resource hub at your church or just have questions, we’d love to help! 

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