No Health Without Mental Health: Anderson District offers conference

By Jessica Brodie

EASLEY—As mental illness, substance use disorders and suicide numbers climb, some churches in South Carolina are stepping up to learn how they can help address the problem.

On March 30, Bethesda United Methodist Church will host a daylong mental health conference to dialogue about how the church can play a big role in helping people. The deadline to register is March 27 (see info below).

“There Is No Health Without Mental Health: The Role of the Church in Addressing Mental Illness” is sponsored by the Anderson District of the UMC. The day begins with registration at 8:30 a.m. and runs from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.

“As a psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist and faith community nurse, I was already aware of many needs related to depression, PTSD, sexual abuse, dementia and the full range of problems that fall under the umbrella of mental illness,” said Peggy Dulaney, conference coordinator. “I was also aware that when someone is diagnosed with a physical health problem, the church responds with great love and support, but when the problem is with mental health, we often do not know what to do, so we do nothing.”

Dulaney said the goals of the conference are 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.

Dulaney, along with conference congregational specialist the Rev. Cathy Joens, said planning for the conference began last summer, when the Health and Welfare Committee at Bethesda UMC conducted a congregational needs assessment to identify health issues within the congregation and health information being requested by members.

“The committee was struck by the number of mental health issues and topics that came out in the survey,” Dulaney said. “We were also aware of the growing rate of opioid addiction and overdose deaths as well as the skyrocketing suicide rate, especially among young people.”

About the same time, she said they read about a conference in the Hartsville District to address the role of the church in addressing such needs, which prompted them to organize something similar in the Upstate.

On Aug. 16, the Hartsville District hosted a free mental illness symposium, “Clothed in My Right Mind: Mental Illness Prescriptions for Healing and Wholeness,” in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Held at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Sumter, the daylong symposium featured four facilitators speaking on a variety of mental health topics, including destigmatizing mental illness, how the church can help with trauma and grief, addictions and their relationship to mental illness, and suicide prevention.

“This is a very, very important issue we all face on a daily basis, some more than others,” Aldersgate pastor the Rev. David Day said at the summer symposium, noting how mental illness has touched his own family.

Dr. Robin Dease, Hartsville District superintendent, said Jesus-followers often don’t know how to help.

“We tend to separate people who are not ‘in their right mind,’” Dease said at the symposium. “In our country, many mentally ill people suffer and die because of our failure to be in community and walk alongside them. Just like cancer, mental illness is a disease that requires treatment.”

Registration for the Anderson District mental health conference is open to all but ends March 27. Cost is $7 and includes lunch. To register, call the Rev. Cathy Joens at 864-940-1893.

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