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Community Liasons

Religious & Spiritual Leaders

Supporting young people

As religious or spiritual leaders, you hold a special and important space in the communities you serve. The nature of these supportive roles, coupled with the deep level of trust established within these pillars, position you as potential key respondents to a young person in your community who may need support.

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Through education, collaboration and the building of tools for intervention, you can help young people who may be suffering from early psychosis, possibly before they find themselves in a crisis situation. This help is often in the form of recognizing possible signs of mental illness, familiarizing yourself with the language useful to engage with that person, and knowing the best resources in your area to access for care.


According to a nationally representative general population survey of people ages 15–54, it was estimated that approximately one quarter of people seeking mental health care look to a member of the clergy before contacting a service provider. (




Wang, P. S., Berglund, P. A., & Kessler, R. C. (2003). Patterns and correlates of contacting clergy for mental disorders in the United States. Health services research, 38(2), 647–673.

Addressing stigma

Navigating the experience of a mental health condition is challenging on many levels. A person can often feel isolated, confused and worried about telling others in fear of how they will be perceived. Mental health stigma includes perceiving someone negatively just because they may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.

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Many people who describe their personal experiences with stigma report feeling shamed or judged for their illness. Delays in getting care are often fueled by stigma surrounding serious mental illness.

Religious leaders can help minimize these feelings of personal shame by fostering inclusivity and openness. It is important to always maintain a positive, shame-free environment to help uplift the safety of all young people. This security and trust can help to bolster pathways for disclosure regarding any mental health concerns an individual may have about themselves or their peers. Religious leaders and their organizations set the tone around mental health awareness. They can formally provide learning resources for young people and their parents that includes normalizing and hopeful language about psychosis.

When to make a referral to a mental health professional

Many community leaders and liaisons have a hard time discerning when and if a referral to a mental health professional is necessary for an individual. If you are unsure, it is usually better to reach out. Here are some situations that require prompt or immediate referral:

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Situations that require prompt or immediate referral:

When a young person demonstrates threat to their personal safety and/or to the safety of those around them (for example, suicidal behavior, severe aggressive behavior, self-mutilation like cutting, or other self-destructive behavior).

Thoughts of suicide should always be taken seriously and be cause for referral. While a person may not share these thoughts with you, close family members and friends may be aware of concerning behaviors, like withdrawal, giving items away, or suicide attempts, and/or expressions of hopelessness, and bring these to your attention. A person who is expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviors is having a psychiatric emergency and immediate psychiatric evaluation / consultation should be sought. It is important to become familiar with local crisis services in your area. Keep contact information for your local crisis services on hand for easy reference in a crisis. If a person is in immediate risk of self-harm, or has engaged in self-injurious behaviors, call 911/Emergency Medical Services and specify that this is a mental health crisis. In some areas, a responder with Crisis Intervention Training can be requested.

Notice the level of distress and planning:

  • How much distress or discomfort do you notice?
  • How well is he/she/they managing or coping?
  • Are they capable of taking caring of themselves?
  • Does there seem to be potential for danger, either to themselves or to others? (e.g., Do they have a plan for suicide/harm? Do they have access to the means by which to carry out that plan? Do they have a past history of attempts/behavior? Do they express desire to die/go to sleep and never wake up? Do they have a support network?)

Ways to Make a Referral for Mental Health Treatment:

  • Find ways to communicate clearly about your concern and potential need for referral.
  • Make this a collaborative process.
  • Discuss similarities and differences of professional clinical care and faith support.
  • Reassure support along the healing journey and that beginning professional help does not mean the spiritual support will end.
  • Understand preconceived notions that can hinder the process of asking for and receiving professional mental healthcare.
  • Have a list of local professional resources at hand.
  • Remain connected and check in often, providing necessary spiritual encouragement.

What is psychosis?

The word psychosis pertains to a variety of symptoms that affect the mind. Characterized by noticeable changes in behaviors, perceptions, thoughts and beliefs, a young person with psychosis is sometimes unable to distinguish what is real and what is not.

What are symptoms that I should look out for?

It can be hard to tell when someone is experiencing early psychosis. An individual experiencing psychosis may have all or only a few of the symptoms below. The intensity and impact of symptoms can also vary enormously from one individual to another. If a congregant shares that they are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to connect them to a First Episode Psychosis Center.

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These experiences vary from person to person. Symptoms may be frightening and seem very real to the person having them and may include:


Voices or auditory hallucinations

Hearing single or multiple voices, which can be simple or complex, abusive, neutral or soothing. People may hear whispers or clear/distinct voices; they may describe changes in their hearing acuity (e.g., hearing things from another room); they may describe indistinct or clear noises or sounds (e.g., buzzing/ringing) which are new and/or distressing. They may tell you directly that they are experiencing these perceptions, or you may notice cues in their behavior such as: they may appear to be talking to themselves, looking somewhere and you don’t know why, or focusing on certain body parts.


Tactile or somatic sensations or hallucinations

Body sensations or feelings that are new and strange. These are sometimes described as electrical charges or feeling something crawling on a body part. People sometimes feel that a part of their body has changed in some significant and troublesome way (e.g., bigger/smaller).


Unusual or delusional thinking

Persistent beliefs not shared by others. A young person may report thinking other people are watching them or that they are under surveillance, feeling very good at certain tasks, having a connection to a famous person, or any number of thoughts that are different and unusual. They sometimes report that television, music or other media are communicating directly to them. You may also notice that a student is pulling away in social situations, seems uneasy with others, or makes comments indicating suspiciousness about others’ intentions.


Depersonalization and/or Derealization

Feeling they are an outside observer of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Examples are feeling that their speech or movements are uncontrollable or controlled by outside forces, that parts of their body are distorted, or feel their memories are not their own. They may feel alienated from their surroundings, or disconnected from people (as if they were separated by a glass wall). Their surroundings may seem distorted, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial and they may have misperceptions of time and space.


Cognitive disorganization
A person’s speech and writing may become disorganized and/or tangential. They may draw connections between words or terms that seem illogical or non-sensical, or they may have more difficulty than usual following conversations.


Slowing of speech, movement and motivation
A young person may demonstrate changes in the amount, tone, rate, pitch, or rhythm of speech. Psychosis may slow people down and significantly lower one’s motivational energy.


Depression and demoralization
Many individuals with psychosis experience significant depression and/or demoralization.


A person with psychosis may experience all or only a few of the above symptoms.
The intensity and impact of symptoms can also vary enormously from one individual to another.

Recovery and hope in our programs

It is important to seek help as soon as you are concerned. The care received at an FEP (First Episode Psychosis) center is designed with each individual in mind and involves many types of trained, caring people who will collaborate with the individual and their family to plan a path towards recovery.

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Coordinated Specialty Care: A Treatment Team

Our programs and programs like ours will typically offer a team of people who will help. Each program is a little different but will often include:


Talk therapy to help build personal skills of resiliency, management, and coping.


Supported Employment & Education Assistance
Help continuing to engage in or adjust to school and work goals while receiving care.


Medication Management
If necessary, finding the best medication at the lowest possible dose.


Peer Support
Guidance from those currently on their own recovery path.


Case Management
Skills and support to organize the practical issues presented during treatment. This includes communication with other team members.


Family Support and Education
Tools designed to keep family members engaged and informed.

Avenues of Collaboration

There are many ways HeadsUp can collaborate and work with communities of faith to support and uplift the mental health of their youth. Here are just a few ideas:

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  • Education and training for religious leaders and staff members on the mental health needs of their population
  • Utilizing religious facilities and outreach platforms to promote the availability of mental health supports


Resources for Religious and Spiritual Communities

“A Look Inside Early Psychosis Care in Pennsylvania”

At a PA FEP (First Episode Psychosis) center, treatment is designed with each individual in mind and involves many types of trained, caring professionals who will work with each person on a plan of recovery. The Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) model is a comprehensive and team-based model, emphasizing hope, empowerment, and collaborative management of care. Watch this short video to learn more.

Video Link

HeadsUp Animated “What is Psychosis Video”

A simple, short educational video to use and share.

"What is Psychosis?" Video

HeadsUp Animated Video “What is Coordinated Specialty Care?”

A brief educational video from HeadsUp about Coordinated Specialty Care which is the type of care someone receives at a Pennsylvania First Episode Psychosis (FEP) Center.  It is available for use to help spread information about psychosis to those who may need support.

What is Coordinated Specialty Care?

HeadsUp Early Psychosis Insert for Religious & Spiritual Leaders

Religious and Spiritual Leaders Insert

HeadsUp Navigating a Mental Health Crisis Insert

Navigating a Crisis Insert

Myth vs. Fact on Serious Mental Health

Serious Mental Health Advisor addresses some of the many myths around serious mental illness (SMI) that are not accurate.

Myth vs. Fact on Serious Mental Health

Mind Apps-Health Index & Navigation Database

“There are an estimated ten thousand mental health apps available today, offering a range of possibilities from connection with a clinicain to symptom monitoring. Apps can be useful in care, but it’s important to be cautious about choosing a suitable app. The goal of this database is to equip users with the information necessary to make a decision based on the app characteristics that matter most to them.”



Provided by the National Institutes of Health this document highlights the history and important milestones of the early intervention model (providing effective care within the first few months of illness) for young people with schizophrenia. Now a national mental health care priority, Coordinated Speciality Care (CSC) enhances work and school participation and supports recovery.

Milestones for Coordinated Specialty Care for Early Schizophrenia