Advocating for Mental Health Funding in Indiana

by | Mar 10, 2023 | Pastor's Blog

I was standing in our church parking in downtown South Bend. It had been a long day, yet there I was with several police officers and EMTs. We were with a man who had been in our soup kitchen just hours before and was suffering from a mental health crisis in our parking lot. 

There was no place for him to go, so the police officer asked me, “Do you want us to take him to jail or the hospital?” I just wanted him to get the help he needed and deserved. Yet, there was no crisis response center for him to be taken to for care. 

Too often in our cities across Indiana and the nation, we ask police officers to be mental health providers and social workers. Jails and hospitals have become the de facto detox center. There was no one to come to help this man and nowhere for him to go. 

A Matter of Loving My Neighbor

This is not an issue that I had planned on getting involved with. Why should a church or a pastor advocate for mental health care funding from our state legislators? 

I believe that to love my neighbor, who in this case was the man having a mental health crisis in my church parking lot, is to make sure that he and all others who need access to mental health have that opportunity. 

This year, the Indiana Senate took on Senate Bill 1 (SB1). This was the first time the Indiana Senate had considered a bill related to mental health. 

I got involved with Faith in Indiana, an interfaith organization bringing together people of faith and goodwill to seek the common good in our state, to advocate for the passage of SB1. 

Senate Bill One Passes Unanimously Out of the Indiana Senate

On February 13, SB1 passed unanimously out of the Indiana Senate. It now moves onto the House, and most believe it will pass easily there too. 

The question remains whether it will be funded or not. Without funding, this bill will be like a brand-new car with no engine. It won’t make an impact. 

That’s why the work continues. I, along with nearly 20 clergy and Bishops from across our state, gathered at the Statehouse on March 7 to make our voice known. 

I invited our own denominational leader, Bishop Julius Trimble, from the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church. We talked to nearly a dozen lawmakers, senators, and representatives about how important this piece of legislation and its funding are for the people in our congregations and communities across Indiana. 

That afternoon, we gathered for a press conference from inside the Statehouse, where we released a letter signed by nine denominational and faith leaders. The letter is below, and you may watch here.

Make Your Voice Known to Your Legislator

If you feel strongly about this issue like I do, please make your voice known to your legislator (you can find your legislator here). Send them an email or a letter. Call their office. Meet with them. Tell them that you care for and love your neighbor and that everyone deserves mental health care in our state. 

This is a part of our ministry. We’re called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Let’s do our part and advocate for mental health funding in our state. 

Grace and peace,
Pastor Matt

Joint Statement of Indiana Bishops and Statewide Faith Leaders in Support of Full Funding for SB 1 and Crisis Response

March 7, 2023

Open letter to:

Senate Pro Temp Rod Bray
House Speaker Todd Huston
Indiana State Senators and Representatives
Governor Eric Holcomb

As bishops, conference ministers and judicatory leaders of faith groups of Indiana we call on you to support SB 1 and advocate for full funding for a comprehensive mental health crisis response system in the 2023 legislative session. 

In every congregation across our state, our clergy and lay leaders are trying to support family members who are struggling with mental health and substance use issues. No matter whether urban or rural, Black or white, Hoosiers want our families to get help when they are in crisis.  But Indiana ranks 42nd in mental health. Across our state, jails are the de-facto detox center. Too often we ask law enforcement to be mental health workers and social workers, which is not fair to them or to our communities. Mental health and substance use problems in Indiana are exacting an unbearable human toll and undermining the economic and social well-being of Hoosiers. We can and must do better.

We celebrate the work of Faith in Indiana –active in over 125 congregations with tens of thousands of worshippers in six counties — who have worked with county sheriffs, police chiefs, business leaders, local mayors and county commissioners to implement proven solutions. With our support, new mobile crisis response teams will be piloted this year in Indianapolis, Gary, and South Bend, and a crisis response center will be opening in St. Joseph County. 

The Behavioral Health Commission report, released last fall, outlines a path forward. When loved ones are in crisis they need:

  • A number to call (a mental health hotline with trained, professional staff)
  • Someone to come (clinician-led mobile crisis teams)
  • A place to go (crisis response centers that connect our loved ones to the help they need).

This system requires full funding so that our people have the help they need when they are in crisis. 

As stewards together of the safety and well-being of Hoosier residents, we are looking to you to provide the leadership we need to have safe and caring communities. 

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Chad Abbott
Conference Minister
Indiana Kentucky Conference
United Church of Christ

Bishop William Gafkjen
Indiana-Kentucky Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Rev. Douglas R. Luginbill
Conference Minister
Central District Conference of Mennonite Church USA

Shawn McConaughey
General Superintendent
Western Yearly Meeting of Friends

Syed Ali Saeed
President, Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network