CADER Experts Showcase How Faith Leader Training and Partnerships with Senior Centers Can Support Mental Health in Older Adults 

According to the Pew Research Center, older adults attend religious services more frequently than any other age group. Additionally, older adults often turn to clergy and their faith communities for support instead of mental health professionals. This creates a need for faith leader training in how to identify and respond to mental health concerns in older adults. Prof. Bronwyn Keefe, director of the BU School of Social Work (BUSSW) Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) and The Network for Professional Education, and Annalee Wilson, CADER evaluation and workforce training manager, recently shared the impact of their research on training faith leaders and creating senior center partnerships at the National Council on Aging’s (NCOA) 2024 Age+Action Conference.  

CADER created an online course, Mental Health and Aging for Faith Leaders, funded by Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In 2023, CADER partnered with the Rush E4 Center for Excellence to disseminate this training to 37 faith leaders in the West Side of Chicago. The self-paced course, which can be completed in three to four hours, helps learners recognize major mental health conditions, understand the barriers to mental health interventions for older adults, and suggests ways faith leaders can help with these concerns. Upon finishing the course, faith leaders felt more confident in identifying resources and services for treating mental health concerns in older adults. Faith leaders showed improvements on all course competencies ranging from 76% to 234%..  

“It provided an awareness to topics that are very important and too often overlooked and not discussed enough,” a learner noted.  

Prof. Keefe and Annalee Wilson also explored leveraging partnerships between faith communities and senior centers to support the mental health of older congregants. Their findings revealed that 97% of faith leaders believed that a partnership between their faith community and a senior center would benefit their older members. However, few such collaborations between faith communities and senior centers actually exist in the Chicago area. The CADER team found that senior centers, where mental health and social isolation are programming priorities, were open to these partnerships as well, and welcomed the idea of faith leaders attending senior center programming.  

While more effort is needed to build partnerships between senior centers and faith communities, this course is a good first step in raising awareness about the ways these two community pillars can support older adults’ mental health. The Mental Health and Aging for Faith Leaders online course is now available to all faith leaders and faith community members interested in responding to the mental health challenges of older adults.  

Learn more about the Mental Health and Aging for Faith Leaders online course.