By Jessica Brodie
SIMPSONVILLE—Another church in the Upstate is opening its arms—and its doors—to people with mental illness through a new support group, Fresh Hope.
Its organizers are two women in their 20s, Kelly Black and Sydney Marguet, who are passionate about the intersection of faith when it comes to healing and thriving mentally and emotionally. And they are doing all they can to help people feel the love of God in the depths of their struggles.
Black is no stranger to mental illness. A lifelong member of Advent United Methodist Church, Simpsonville, Black has battled severe depression since she was in elementary school. While today she is married and starting a career in mental health peer support, the lows of her illness have wreaked havoc in her life.
A hard worker who has held a job since she was 15, Black was out of work during one of the world’s most isolating times—the pandemic. While her family and friends have always been supportive, it was a desolate season.
“From basically January 2020 to April 2021 I was looking for a job, and I was just feeling really lost and lonely. I was feeling really alone in my depression, like I didn’t have anyone who could say, ‘I know exactly what that feels like,’” Black said. “I started looking for a support group, but I didn’t find anything that was faith-based.”
A strong woman of faith, Black said it is her hope in God that has helped her weather the toughest lows of her depression.
One day, Black found the website for Fresh Hope, which helps churches start Christ-centered peer support groups for individuals and their loved ones who are affected by a mental health diagnosis.
“I thought, ‘I want this!’ I really wanted someone to do this.”
Quickly, Black realized that “someone” needed to be her.
Fresh Hope provides intensive training for anyone who wants to start a group in their church, including certification for facilitators. They require a team of two to four people to be trained facilitators to lead the group, and one of these must have a mental health diagnosis. This is so the group is genuinely peer-led and embraces a wellness model; that is, the belief that one can live a rich and full life in spite of a mental health diagnosis.
Black enlisted Marguet, her friend and fellow member of Advent UMC, who is a recreational therapist and works in a mental health setting. They completed the Fresh Hope training and lined up support at Advent, which gave them the OK to start a group.
Pete Aubin, director of discipleship and connections at Advent UMC, said the church has a number of small “life groups,” including one for people in grief and one for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Aubin said he thought adding a small group devoted to mental wellness and support “was a fantastic idea.”
“It’s another opportunity to reach out to community,” Aubin said.
He said that while he is not a mental health expert, he knows many people in the community struggle with mental illness, and the church should be a place where they can find help and connection, especially now.
“People who might have had issues that might have been hidden before, COVID brought to surface,” Aubin said.
Black and Marguet completed their training this summer and launched their first meeting in January. Right now, Fresh Hope meets the last Thursday night of the month, and it is open not only to Advent members but also the whole community. They are hoping to meet more often as their group solidifies.
“It’s a group for anyone and everyone,” Black said.
Black noted it’s so important for people with mental illness to have a safe place where they can feel loved and supported, and their family members also need that support network. Having such encouragement in a church is essential.
“I felt so alone in my illness, and even though many (secular) mental health support groups exist, I wanted someone to pour into me in my faith and share my faith,” Black said. “Our hope is in God, and especially mentally and emotionally, God is what has given us hope to live in spite of this illness. To be able to share that and grow into it, and help others with it and teach others, is extremely important.”
“I think everyone, no matter who you are, is touched by mental illness, just like I think everyone is touched by cancer, whether it’s a friend or a family member, but we don’t like to talk about it,” Marguet said. “A lot of people who deal with these struggles seek help at their church first, but I don’t think a lot of churches have mental health resources.”
Marguet said that is a big reason why they wanted to start a faith-based mental health group.
“In order to thrive as an individual, you have to be connected to faith,” Marguet said.
And that’s the whole point: thriving in spite of mental illness, not just surviving, so we can be all Christ needs us to be for his kingdom.
Besides, Aubin added, Jesus did say the most important commandment, besides loving God, is to love others as yourself.
“Jesus was always there to meet people’s immediate needs, not just standing on a hillside preaching, but healing lepers or somebody who was lame,” Aubin said.
“I really feel the church should be in that business.”
To explore using the Fresh Start model to start a peer-led mental health support group at your church, visit https://freshhope.us. To connect with Advent’s Fresh Hope group, visit https://www.facebook.com/freshhopesimpsonville.
By Jessica Brodie