“One out of four families in this country is directly affected by mental illness,” said Rev. Leah Stout, Parish Associate at St. Andrew’s. “It’s much more prevalent in society than people realize. When I refer to mental illness, I’m referring to a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects behavior. Mental illness is a topic that doesn’t usually interest people until it affects their life.”
Rev. Stout said that St. Andrew’s is committed to providing information, support and encouragement for those suffering with mental illness as well as for their families and friends. She said that interest in mental illness went back decades at the church.
“It was in the early 1990s when a couple in our church, Audrey and Ralph Jenson, decided it was important for the church to better understand mental illness,” she said. “God loves each one of us for who we are. He loves those with mental illness just as much as He loves those with illness of the heart or something else. We started a mental illness task force, and every year we put on a seminar or workshop dealing with something such as depression, anxiety, or Asperger’s.”
“There is still a huge stigma with mental illness, even though our culture has become more aware of it,” she said. “Also the media captures many of the horrible things that are done by some with mental illness. The reality of a frightening mental illness is clearly with us, as seen in school shootings. But there are millions of people functioning well with a brain chemistry disorder; it’s not like everyone with mental illness is going to be a problem. It’s important to understand that. It’s an illness like any other and needs to be treated with medication and the proper counseling. There are great resources available and we try to help with that.”
Rev. Stout said the church holds support groups for family members of those with mental illness on the first and third Sunday of every month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Other groups that meet at St. Andrew’s are: C.O.P.E – A Support Group for Caregivers; O.C. Asperger’s Support Group; Support Group for Adults and Parents of Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, also periodically leads a Family Education Program at St. Andrew’s, offering a series of twelve weekly classes structured to help caregivers understand and support individuals with serious mental illness while maintaining their own well being.
These classes are free for family members and significant others of individuals with Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Co-occurring Brain Disorders, and Addictive Disorders.
“We’re trying to help decrease the stigma of mental illness,” explained Rev. Stout. “Those with mental illness don’t need to be shunned. People are hurting and need help. They need to be embraced. God wants the church to be a safe place for everyone. Every church can’t do everything, but we can all do our part. We do what we can here at St. Andrew’s and we try to resource people to get the right help. We do what we can to come alongside. There is such a big need out there.”
For further information, visit sapres.org/ministries/support/mental-illness.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]