What exactly is Fresh Hope?
A Narrative about the Fresh Hope Movement
The Fresh Hope movement began in 2009 as a Christian support group for those who suffer from mental illness and their loved ones. In 2007, Pastor Brad Hoefs felt called to start a faith-based support group. For two years, he searched for materials that would help him start and lead such a group from a Biblical, hope-filled point of view, with no success. With encouragement and input from his doctor, Dr. Michael Egger, Pastor Brad decided to write the materials himself. He developed six faith-based, Biblical tenets (principles) for those who have mental health issues and their loved ones. These tenets were key for him, having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1997. The tenets were instrumental to Brad’s personal recovery, and now have been proven to be instrumental to others in offering hope and key insights into a wellness-driven, successful road of recovery from a Christian perspective.
Within the first eight months of its start, the group had grown significantly. Feedback from those attending was that Fresh Hope was the type of group they had been searching for, but had never found. (As with most mental health groups, many times those attending have little or no hope. They are trying to simply figure out how to cope with their circumstances, leading mostly to discussions about medicines and “coping” skills, which can easily leave one feeling even more depressed and hopeless about their recovery.)
Also during those inaugural months of starting Fresh Hope, one of the largest healthcare providers in the Omaha area, Alegent Healthcare (now Alegent-Creighton) joined together with Fresh Hope. They began to provide their consumers with information about Fresh Hope. From this support, more Fresh Hope groups were born. Fresh Hope organized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and received several grants to help start other groups based upon the initial model. Several groups began in the Omaha metro, which continue today. Not only did Fresh Hope receive inquiries about starting groups locally, but they also received many national inquiries. Others were finding Fresh Hope through online searches — looking for the same materials Brad had been looking for prior to writing the Fresh Hope materials. Because of this need, the volunteer Fresh Hope staff wrote and prepared a facilitator’s manual, and videoed one of their three-hour local training sessions for those who were not located near Omaha. Within a short time, several groups outside of the Omaha area and outside of Nebraska had started.
The interest for starting Fresh Hope groups by churches has been, and continues to be, significant. All of our research to date still shows that there are no other resources like this. There are numerous resources from a secular view that are workbooks and books on overcoming depression and bipolar issues, but these resources are not faith-based. To date, with continued research we have found no one offering a workbook for successful recovery from a faith-based perspective that actually offers tenets (principles) to work through to achieve success in mental health recovery. Nor have we found any materials and training along with ongoing support which equip someone for starting a faith-based support group for mental health issues. We say this after investing years of searching. If there is something like this written from a Christian perspective, we have not found it.
Because of the need for materials that hold to the fidelity of the Fresh Hope principles, Brad self-published a book entitled, Fresh Hope: Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis. Within the book is not only his story of tragedy to triumph, but very concrete examples of how he applied these tenets to his own recovery and 28 years of pastoral counseling to hundreds. But even more important than his story contained in the book, is that it is truly a workbook. Hence, the subtitle, A Wellness Workbook for Fresh Hope. The initial plan was to offer the book to Fresh Hope group participants to empower them to work through the tenets and equip them to live out a successful recovery. Brad realized while writing the book that it is also useful for someone who has never been to a Fresh Hope group. It would help loved ones in their understanding of the issues of recovery. It could also serve as a resource for pastors and counselors to offer to those coming to them for help. Since the book was released in March of 2013 through Xulon Press, we have seen an increased awareness of, and interest in, starting Fresh Hope groups. Book sales are going very well.
Sadly, with the death of Rick Warren’s son, we’re seeing a heightened awareness of the need to help those who suffer from mental illness and their families, and an increased need to better equip pastors and churches in how they might minister to them. Because of this, more churches and individuals have been contacting Fresh Hope to see if they, too, might receive direction and materials in starting a group. This need is great. And every day that resources such as the Fresh Hope materials are not easily available and publicized, too many people are dying from mental illness at their own hands or due to addictions that have come about because they have been self-medicating their illness and/or moods.
As the author privately wished prior to the book’s release, it is now confirmed that Fresh Hope is far more than a resource manual for a support group. We now have a proven record of significantly helping in the journey to recovery. Those who attend Fresh Hope group meetings report a growing sense of hope for their future based upon the principles and understanding that hope is, in fact, a faith decision. They also report that their attitudes and the view of their lives are improving. And while not a scientific study, those who participate and work the principles have fewer, if any, hospital stays.
We believe that the need is huge within the Christian church. Why? For many years, the agreed statistic in healthcare has been that every fourth person in America suffers from some type of mental health issue. New statistics determined by John M Grohol, PSYD, (“Mental Health Statistics”, World of Psychology, http://psychcentral.com, May 3, 2010) now place that number at nearly one in three. While these statistics are a national average, one would assume the same ratio within the Christian church. Yet the Church at large offers very little in the way of help for those with mental health issues. Many pastors make referrals to counselors when someone comes to them for help. Some churches do allow outside support groups such as DBSA and NAMI groups to use their facilities. But these are secular groups with no particular bias towards the Christian faith (i.e. AA speaks of a ‘higher power’).
Fresh Hope has a proven track record of offering a faith-based, hope-filled approach to wellness that is Biblical and practical. Fresh Hope is a wellness approach to recovery versus a “coping approach” which many times inadvertently comes about from the medical model. We have found nothing like Fresh Hope that offers a workbook for individual use, while also providing the training and materials for starting and leading a Christian support group for mental health issues.
The Fresh Hope book can be of great interest to pastors and Christian counselors as a book to read for their own understanding of the issues that individuals deal with in their mental health issues and recovery. Plus, the book itself will be a resource that they will want to provide to those who come to them for help. The book will also be helpful to the loved ones of those who have a mental health diagnosis.
Please note: We have a number of professionals (doctors, therapists, pastors) as well as group members and facilitators who would be willing to discuss both the need and the success of Fresh Hope if you feel that this would be helpful in your understanding. (One of our board members is Dr. Michael Egger, the psychiatrist who answers the questions at the end of each chapter in the book.)
Fresh Hope as an organization stands ready to help those who start groups, providing coaching assistance by certified facilitators, and offering continuing support. So much so, that we plan to add a full-time staff person for this purpose in the near future.
Additionally, it is important to acknowledge a grassroots movement within the mental health field today that is emphasizing the importance of peer-to-peer support for successful recovery from mental illness. It is widely recognized that peer support helps those who have a diagnosis to transition from medical care into taking back their lives and seeing themselves as much more than their diagnosis. Which is even more reason for the Church at large to have the opportunity of offering Fresh Hope in their local setting.