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Church makes space for mental healing

Courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo.
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Mickey Hess knows what it’s like to navigate mental illness alone. For decades, he experienced depression struggles within his family, but he kept it all quiet, not even daring to admit it to himself. Tragedies were never discussed in his circles, and there was a cloak of secrecy around mental health.

“It was never talked about, never shared,” Hess said.

But over the years, after two major depressive episodes and the loss of a son who’d also struggled with depression and anxiety, Hess began to open up and understand the importance of awareness and sharing as a part of mental, spiritual and emotional healing.

One day, his pastor asked whether he’d consider leading a new support group at his church, Travelers Rest United Methodist Church, for people and their loved ones struggling with mental health issues.

Travelers Rest United Methodist Church is a part of the South Carolina Annual Conference.

Now, the Healthy Minds Team is more than three years in and going strong. More than a mental health support group, Hess said, it’s a compassionate mind-health team filled with caring and honest believers who surround each other with love and encouragement—and a listening ear.

“It’s all about healthy comfort, healthy confidentiality, healthy communication and healthy community,” Hess said, and all of it in a church setting.

The Healthy Minds Team is one way churches are beginning to support their members with awareness and supportive environments to foster conversation and healing around mental health. As mental health issues become more prevalent, and more talked about, the need is strong. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020), whether anxiety, depression, bipolar or other issues.

At TRUMC, Hess and his team embrace Ephesians 4:23 as their banner verse. Penned by the apostle Paul, it emphasizes being made new in the attitude of our minds.

“That seemed to me to really give us an anchor there for our group and say, ‘OK, we’re a Christian mind-health team,” Hess said.

“Several years ago, we at TRUMC made an intentional commitment to bring mental and emotional health to the forefront of what it means to be a disciple of Christ,” Tompkins said.

After a sermon series on emotionally healthy spirituality, based on a book by Peter Scazzero, Tompkins said Hess started the group.

Tompkins said the Healthy Minds Team is “a vital and life-giving source of God’s grace, Christ’s peace and the Holy Spirit’s healing and wholeness for our church and community.”

It’s so important to have a space to go seek support if you have mental illness, and the fact that it’s in a church—which naturally focuses on wholeness in Christ—is tremendous, said Ashley Gutschow, a Stephen Minister at TRUMC.

excerpt from a story by Jessica Brodie, writer, SC United Methodist Advocate

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.

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