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You are not alone

When it comes to mental illness, the church has a job to do—one modeled by Jesus and carried out in the love, resources, support and programs

That was the key message lifted up at a district-wide mental health conference at Bethesda United Methodist Church. Called "There Is No Health Without Mental Health: The Role of the Church in Addressing Mental Illness," the conference was sponsored by Anderson District and District Connectional Ministries in the South Carolina Annual Conference. The conference featured a full day of awareness, education and other tools for Christians hoping to reach out to those hurting in the community.

Conference coordinator Peggy Dulaney, a psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist and faith community nurse, said the church can be excellent at caring for people with physical and spiritual needs, but people often don't know what to do to help people struggling with mental health issues, so they do nothing.

The goal of the conference was to change that "nothing" to "something" by raising awareness of mental health needs, decreasing the stigma of mental illness and identifying community resources for churches, those dealing with mental illness and their caregivers.

Ken Dority, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Greenville, spoke on how many people feel mental illness is a defect or a mark of shame, and the consequence leads to fear, avoidance and lack of understanding. He shared how one of the key ways to reduce stigma is to share stories of the lived experience of mental illness.

Dority said in 50% of the cases where someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, symptoms began by the age of 14, and in 75% of the cases, symptoms were apparent by age 24. However, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and people getting help is eight to 10 years, which can cause a host of problems, much like an oncologist only getting to treat people with Stage 4 cancer.

Dulaney noted multiple factors that can contribute to mental illness, from biological factors such as heredity, chemical dysfunction, toxic levels of stress in those who experience trauma or brain injury, living with chronic pain, adverse childhood experiences such as sexual harassment or bullying, and more.

Addictions counselor Jill Crossgrove spoke above the relationship between addiction and mental illness and what the church can do to help, lifting up the ways churches can help foster recovery by creating a new life in Christ and through various support programs.

And Patterson talked about the grief process and how it can be very different for different people comparing it to a spiritual/emotional concussion. If we don't attend to it, there can be long-term negative consequences.

"As Christians, we are called to minister to the whole person. For a long time, we've been better at responding to spiritual and physical needs. We have some catching up to do with regard to mental health needs, " said Rev. Beverly CroweTipton, pastor of Zion UMC in Anderson

"One of the big takeaway messages of the conference is that there is help for persons experiencing mental health concerns," said Anderson District Superintendent the Rev. Steve Patterson, who was on the conference's planning committee with Dulaney and others. "One doesn't have to pretend everything is OK, go through it alone or feel ashamed.  Every church has access to local resources of assistance."

excerpt from a story by Jessica Brodie, editor, South Carolina United Methodist Advocate newspaper

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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