Spartanburg initiative addressing mental health disparities in Black churches

Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 10:32 PM EST
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Experts have said mental health is a public health crisis. Economic, health and racial issues have magnified the challenges in recent years. That’s why a group in Spartanburg is working to break long held stigmas by making an important pillar of the community another resource for people who need it.

“We have often built up stigmas around mental health and impeded the help that we can offer one another,” said  Rev. Scott Neely, the Director of the Faith Initiative to End Child Poverty.

The initiative is a coalition of different congregations uniting for the same goal. Now, they’re partnering with Rev. Dr. Mekeshia Bates to open the doors of the church to the topic of mental health.

“Recognizing then that there was an issue, a disconnect between mental health and religion, especially in the Black church,” said Dr. Bates, a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

Dr. Bates began working with the faith community in 2018. Eventually launching mental health sermons at her former church.

“Many African Americans are taught first in church that it is spirits causing these things and that your faith isn’t strong enough or there’s shame and guilt attached to mental health. Also the thought that if it’s not in the bible, it doesn’t exist,” she explained.

With the program, she says education comes first--helping church leadership and congregations understand the meaning of mental health, debunking any stigmas, and connecting members to resources.

“It is working directly with the churches to integrate mental health into the ministry, into the fabric of the church,” she said.

They’ll begin by connecting with some of the more than 30 churches already working with the Spartanburg faith initiative. Then hopefully reach other churches too.

“Even as different as our theologies may be, our demographics may be, the more one of us is succeeding the more all of us succeed,” said Neely.

“It’s working to make Spartanburg a healthier—specifically a mental health friendly space,” said Dr. Bates.

This initiative is just getting started so they are seeking congregations that may be interested in working with Dr. Bates. You can reach her by email: To learn more about the initiative, click here.