The Forum was originally created by a consultative group exploring the relationship between religion and mental health initiated by the former Health Education Authority (HEA) during the 1990s. Following the closure of the HEA in 2000, and the establishment of the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE), the small spirituality group initially chaired by Dr Lynne Friedli, of which Martin Aaron was a founder member, moved to continue its work under the auspices of "Mentality" at the offices of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, which acted as its secretariat.
The Spirituality Group continued to gather momentum and gained a whole new dimension a year later in 2001, following the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers in New York. At that time NIMHE was established by the government as the vehicle for delivering modern mental health services and its Chief Executive – Anthony Sheehan – in conversation with Peter Gilbert (the National Lead for Social Care) established spirituality as a project stream within the NIMHE Programme. Like many others they were aware of the vulnerability of Moslems living in this country following the 9/11 disaster. There was a twin concern both for Islamic spirituality and its proper articulation, and the mental health of the Islamic faith community. Peter Gilbert who had joined the Spirituality Forum realised the importance of it working together with the NHS Project. As a result of this partnership membership of the Forum increased as interested parties from across the religious spectrum, including humanists and atheists joined the Forum.
With the growth of the Forum and the increase in its activities, in 2003 The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health decided to end their secretariat of the Forum, and it was at this time that it was proposed and agreed that Martin Aaron should take over the chair. During the following two years with its continued expansion, the Forum was registered as a company limited by guarantee in May 2003, and as a charity with the Charity Commission. The Forum had become an inter-faith multi-faith charity with trustees representing all nine major faiths recognised by the Department of Health, together with representative humanists and atheists. At this stage Forum's membership and interested parties address book was approaching 1800.
Although some smaller donations had been received, it was not until April 2009 that the Forum was successful in obtaining a major grant from the Department of Health to carry forward the National Spirituality Project in the NHS for three years which ended in 2012.
The Forum had a number of key activities under the DoH-funded programme. These included raising awareness of spirituality in the delivery of mental health services in the then 68 Mental Health Trusts, and establishing links with spiritual care staff across the country. The team were seeking to establish a spirituality link person in every Trust. Ideally a Trust is best served by having three people viz. a spirituality lead at Board level, a spirituality lead in service delivery, and a professional spirituality lead such as a chaplain. As well as establishing local networks, the team worked to create a regional structure to facilitate communication between the National Forum, Mental Health Trusts and third sector organisations, as well as faith communities.
The Forum connects with the membership in several ways. Regular meetings are arranged each year which are often in London, but we also meet elsewhere in the country in order to raise the Forum’s profile nationally and to network with different regional groups. This website is another channel for our communication. We keep our members in touch with planned meetings via email alerts. To become registered on the database as a Friend of the Forum, please click on Join Us.
Exploring the relationship between religion and mental health