New Christian ministry group seeks to promote mental and emotional health

Marissa Mizroch, Reporter

A new student-led Christian ministry is combining prayer, community and worship to promote mental and emotional health.

The Living Room, sponsored by the Church of the Redeemer at Northwestern University, started Friday as a peer-facilitated group for those seeking a spiritual support network. Weinberg junior Natalie Fallert started The Living Room after her experience of taking a quarter off for health reasons, a time she describes as “isolating.”

“I found that when I came back, the church was the strongest group of people who understood what those struggles meant,” she said. “In the past, the church was responsible for addressing a feeling of hopelessness, or despair. People would go to the church if they had struggles with that.”

Fallert said The Living Room is meant as a support to anyone suffering from mental or emotional problems, not as a substitute to other forms of psychiatric or psychological care. It is open to all members of the community.

“I’m not a therapist, neither are the other people who facilitate the group. It’s just a support group,” said Fallert. “We believe in community, prayer, confession and worship as a powerful way to address the feeling of hopelessness that can accompany depression and anxiety. But it also recognizes the importance of therapy and medication.”

Although The Living Room is a new group, faith-based counseling is strong part of many religious communities. Pastoral associate of Sheil Catholic Center, Mary Deeley, explained that many religious leaders are trained in pastoral counseling, which helps places of worship become safe places for people seeking help.

“A lot of times, people aren’t comfortable immediately seeking out professional help,” she said. “So I think that groups that give people a space to talk about anything, to be able to say what’s on their mind, things like religious counselors and peer groups can provide that space that begins the process of talking.”

The Rev. Julie Windsor Mitchell of The University Christian Ministry also sees a strong connection between a church community, spiritual health and mental well-being.

“The No. 1 thing the church does is build community, and I see many students here who feel alone. If they can get in touch with a church community, they can feel less isolated,” Windsor Mitchell said. “I believe firmly in the connection of our minds, our bodies and our spirits. We’re holistic. All aspects of ourselves are connected to the other aspects. So we can improve our spiritual lives, we can improve our emotional lives.

Fallert said she hopes to expand The Living Room in the fall, including incorporating professionals into the group for members needing things like medication or therapy. Fallert also aims to change the way people think about mental illness.

“We also want to have fun, so we can have dinner before events and have fellowship, so we can decrease the negative stigma of mental illness on campus,” she said.

The Living Room meetings are held Fridays at 5 p.m in room 106 of the Multicultural Center.

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