Becoming Sanctuaries: Belonging and Mental Health in the Church

Maddie GarciaBlog

For the past few years, Sanctuary has set aside October for an annual mental health awareness month campaign. With Mental Illness Awareness Week observed October 1-7 in Canada and the United States, and World Mental Health Day on October 10, it is a fitting time of year to focus on mental health awareness. This year, our theme is inspired by Sanctuary’s vision of seeing churches become sanctuaries—places where those who are living with mental health challenges can feel safe, supported, and a sense of belonging. 

We all have a desire to belong, to be loved, seen, known and accepted. When people feel that they truly belong, they are free to be themselves without fear of rejection or ridicule. When people know that others are glad that they are there, they feel valued for who they are and what they contribute. When people feel supported by a community, they are able to pursue their personal wellbeing alongside others. And the Church can play a vital role in supporting mental health and wellbeing in our communities. That’s what we at Sanctuary would love to see happen, and you can play a part in it!

Becoming Sanctuaries: Belonging and Mental Health in the Church

You may have heard the statistics around mental health and mental illness: at least one in five people will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their lives. This means that in your friend groups, workplaces, and church communities, there are people experiencing mental health challenges of some sort. But what can the Church do to respond to those of us living with mental health challenges? Is mental health talked about openly and with care in your local church? 

When it comes to supporting people in their mental health, the unique role of the Church is to offer spiritual friendship, care, and community. Sanctuary Ambassador John Swinton writes, “Every Christian congregation should have a ‘minimum’ standard, an expectation to be a good place, a ‘real’ place, where real people can share life as it is and struggle with God together rather than alone… Offering ‘ordinary love’, and welcoming people with mental health challenges as they are, we have an opportunity to participate in God’s extraordinary love for those who struggle.” In other words, churches can be safe and welcoming places where people experience meaningful support on their recovery journeys. Here, people can find belonging, and know that they are not alone. 

During our October mental health awareness month campaign, we are focusing on the theme of becoming sanctuaries, and examining the importance of belonging when it comes to cultivating caring and supportive communities. Throughout the month, we will explore how churches can reduce the stigma around mental health, share devotionals (sign up to receive the devotionals here!) and prayers from Sanctuary ambassadors and advisors, highlight new music from our album Sanctuary Songs with The Porter’s Gate, feature the voices of people with lived experience of mental health challenges, as well as provide you with practical resources you can use with your church. We’ll also invite you to consider joining the Alongside monthly donor community, a passionate group of people who give to equip churches to become sanctuaries.

Get Involved

Follow Sanctuary on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with all we’re doing this month! Our campaign is designed to be interactive and easily shareable on social media. We’d love to hear from you in the comments, and feel free to share our posts and tag your friends.

If you’d like to download a few of our graphics to post on your own account, you can do so here. You’re welcome to use these graphics for your personal account or for your church or organization to help raise awareness about mental health. Don’t forget to tag us!

You can also subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with all the latest from Sanctuary.

Lastly, and most importantly, you can work towards becoming a sanctuary yourself. We encourage you to use this month as an invitation to reach out to people in your communities and churches to offer friendship, connection, and an empathetic listening ear. Each of us can play a role in creating spaces where we feel safe and welcomed, whether or not you live with a mental health challenge. We hope that you can both find and form places of belonging along your mental health journey and the journeys of others. 

Cover photo designed by Adam Mountstevens


Maddie Garcia

Maddie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and has worked as a social media manager and digital marketer in ministry settings for over five years. In her Masters of Communications, Maddie researched marketing best practices for non-profit organizations with a special focus on campus ministries. Through her experience as an online mentor for teens and young adults, she learned the importance of loving others through listening.