Through community connection and education, we can change the meaning of mental illness.
The core of our work as a community-based mental health chaplaincy is our home visiting program, described in more detail below. But we offer non-denominational spiritual care to anyone in our wider community who is living with mental illness and has a need for spiritual or emotional support.
Many of the residents we visit no longer have contact with family. This means that they have limited emotional support them when they are in a crisis. Our chaplain maintains connections with residents we know from home visits when they are in hospital and in prison.
Grief support is a big part of what we offer. Often, workers for other community mental health services call upon us to conduct meaningful memorial services when a person has died in a boarding home, even homes that we don't visit regularly. Our chaplain will also facilitate group discussion to support residents in their grief.
We frequently offer one-to-one emotional support for community members, including virtual support for those who have access to a computer. This could include spiritual care during a difficult life transition, or supporting a person as they make meaning after a tragedy. We receive referrals from within the homes we visit, or through other agencies.
These services are offered at no cost.
For our more formal virtual psychotherapy offerings, see "Affordable Psychotherapy" below.
Boarding Home Visits
Our teams generally visit homes for 1-2 hours every two weeks. There is always food and conversation, sometimes laughter, sometimes sorrow. All of our teams share the commitment to honour the sacredness of each person we meet.
The visits are profound, but casual. During the visit people will come and go; the visits can be chaotic and bustling or peaceful and contemplative. We share kind affirmations, confessions of sadness, deeply philosophical and theological exchanges—and decades-long friendships emerge.
Visits to boarding homes are arranged with homeowners, often through suggestions from community workers. As guests in private homes, our teams could be asked to leave at any time—a crucial factor in the trust we build together.
Teams come primarily from communities of faith, including teams from the Presbyterian and United Churches as well as members of other faith communities. Teams consist of 2-5 people, and new members are asked to begin with a year-long commitment. Many residents have experienced abandonment, so we emphasize consistency in attendance. Volunteers must also stay up-to-date on safety and boundaries training which we offer regularly.
Coming in 2021: Affordable Psychotherapy
Thanks to a generous grant from the United Church of Canada Foundation, we are developing an online psychotherapy program to help meet Canadians' increasing need for professional therapy. We will connect people in need with low-to-no-cost psychotherapy by Registered Psychotherapists.
Mental Health Inclusion Education
We offer a workshop series tailor-made for faith communities of all stripes on the subject of Mental Health Inclusion. Beginning with a free consultation to understand the community's needs, we then create education modules for community members, leaders, and clergy. To learn more about our Mental Health Inclusion program, click here.
Part of the Dialogue
Being invited into private boarding homes gives BHM a unique perspective on mental health in Canada, and we are committed to engaging in the larger discourse on mental health care and spirituality through regular workshops, community consultation, research projects, student placements and education curricula.
BHM offers placements for students of Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto, where they gain frontline experience in inner city and mental health pastoral care. Responsibilities and activities include regularly visiting boarding homes, visiting residents in hospital, participating in memorial services, and writing reflections on their experiences. Past students have described the placement as invaluable to their career, as there are few alternative placements that focus on mental health care in such depth and in the unique setting of boarding homes.
Regularly, BHM organizes workshops for volunteers focusing on aspects of the ministry, such as the importance of loving affirmation or understanding the lasting effects of trauma. The gathering also serves as an important opportunity for volunteers to share experiences with BHM, to discuss how other teams organize their time in the homes, and to feel the encouragement of being around like-minded people.
Our culture’s social rejection of people who experience mental illness, poverty, and addictions indicates a need to re-evaluate what is considered valuable in a life.
Through advocacy, we pose some of the deepest questions that arise from our ministry in the homes to the wider community. We challenge the neglect and rejection of our friends in the homes by witnessing to their goodness.
BHM focuses on the issues of isolation, stigma, and inclusion. Through partnerships with other community organizations, we collaborate on other societal issues that impact our residents such as poverty and affordable housing.
The main form our advocacy takes is education. Through our workshop and retreat series on Mental Health Inclusion, we are reaching a broad network of faith communities who have committed to finding more effective ways of reaching people with mental illness and addictions in their midst. We teach practical skills and spiritual practices that can help people to be more empathic and inclusive in their day-to-day lives.
BHM also maintains its commitment to quality education through the training of future chaplains, psychotherapists and ministers from the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto.