CADER Launches Two-Year Clergy Training Program Responding to Older Adult Mental Health Needs

On March 21, the Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) officially launched a two-year grant-funded program aimed at building the capacity of clergy to address the behavioral health needs of older adults by developing a training program for diverse faith-based leaders throughout Massachusetts. This program, funded by the MA Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Fund, builds upon CADER’s experience in workforce development and training in the area of behavioral health and aging.

The kick-off meeting included a meeting of the Clergy Stakeholder Advisory Group—key stakeholders and faith-based leaders in Massachusetts—as well as faculty and students from the School of Theology and School of Social Work. School of Theology Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning Pamela Lightsey welcomed everyone and delivered the morning’s opening remarks.

“We are very excited to move into this next phase of our project and the opportunity it has presented to work with BU School of Theology,” Professor Bronwyn Keefe, PI and Interim Director of CADER, said. “Part of the impetus for this project was that research shows that during episodes of stress, grief, and depression, more often older adults turn to clergy rather than mental health professionals. Given CADER’s experience in developing the knowledge and skills of the aging and mental health workforce, we believe that training the clergy is the next step needed to impact the well-being of older adults.”

With the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report in 2014 indicating that 29% to 40% of older adults in Massachusetts report being depressed, one of the greatest barriers to the provision of mental health services identified by CADER was the lack of a trained workforce. Clergy reported that their ministries include heavy demands to provide mental health services to members of their congregations, yet many feel overwhelmed and ill equipped to help.  As a result, behavioral health issues often go unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated.

During the first year of the program, the Clergy Stakeholder Advisory Group will participate in a pilot of CADER’s Behavioral Health and Aging Certificate. Based on this group’s feedback, CADER will revise and deliver the new content in the second year to a larger group of clergy across Massachusetts. At the end of program, CADER believes that clergy will be able to demonstrate significant increases in competencies in key areas, such as recognizing the signs and symptoms of common cognitive, substance use, and mental health conditions (i.e. suicide and depression); addressing the impact of stigma when working with older adults; understanding how and where to make referrals for assistance; and identifying the strengths and resources in immigrant and refugee communities that build resilience.

For more information on CADER, click here.