Mental health among parishioners is now a primary concern for Church of England clergy, a new survey suggests.
Senior priests cite mental health as one of the biggest social challenges in their area, second only to loneliness, with 60 per cent saying it is a 'major' or 'significant' concern, according to research by the Church Urban Fund.
With a shortage of NHS funding available, local church leaders are being forced to tackle the crisis after the numbers identifying mental health as a concern rose by nearly a fifth in the last two years, the findings reveal.
The survey of more than 1,000 senior clergy between September and October last year highlighted that loneliness and isolation was still the biggest concern with 76 per cent saying it was a major or significant problem – a rise of 18 percentage points since 2011.
The range of services through churches is highlighted in the study with 94 per cent of churches involved in helping people with loneliness, 86 per cent with family breakdown and 83 per cent in supporting people with mental health problems.
Nearly one in five churches (19 per cent) runs a food bank, either alone or in partnership, with nearly all (93 per cent) supporting food banks in some way, including providing a venue, volunteers and donations.
The Bishop at Lambeth, Tim Thornton, said the study highlighted that the Church of England is 'uniquely well placed' to respond to needs in communities.
'This research shows the deep commitment of the Church of England to the well-being and flourishing of communities across the country, from projects such as lunch clubs for the elderly and parent toddler groups to community cafes, food banks and night shelters for homeless people,' he said.
Paul Hackwood, Executive Director of Church Urban Fund, said: 'Churches' long-term presence in local communities means they are typically embedded in – and actively nurturing – networks of relationships. This report shows that they are playing a vital and significant part in responding to many of the challenges we face as a society, especially around issues such as loneliness, mental health problems and financial difficulties.'