Churches Should Be 'Safe Spaces' to Discuss Health Issues say Leaders

An international group of faith leaders have called on churches to make themselves "safe spaces" for those afflicted with mental and physical health problems to discuss their issues.

"We need to have open and inclusive dialogue on mental and physical health issues, so that we can create safe spaces, where communities can express their concerns in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust," said Dr. Elizabeth Vadakekara from India of the Medical Mission Sisters in London during a Jan. 16-18 meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.

Twenty five delegates with experience in healthcare and related fields joined the meeting, which was organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) with the purpose to challenge the taboos associated with disease, to sponsor confidential places in which sensitive issues can be explored without judgment and to equip churches in creating safe spaces in their communities.

One of the primary measures discussed was education, including creating groups in existing churches for youth, women, men and promoting training in a variety of other settings.

"Addressing health related issues can be very divisive for faith communities," Dr. Manoj Kurian, WCC programme executive for Health and Healing, told WCC News.

Therefore, he said, "It is vital to have an open and inclusive approach in addressing such issues, which can help prepare the ground for positive transformation of faith communities."

The WCC's Health and healing initiative supports the churches' work in the field of health and healing with particular emphasis on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and the promotion of reconciliation and the "healing of memories." The group's relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations such as UNICEF and UNAIDS allows it to facilitate networking and advocacy on behalf of church-related health networks.

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