2012 Interfaith Conference

Faith Communities & Mental Illness: Tools for Response and Care

by The Rev. Karen MacDonald

May our faith communities be sanctuaries of hope and support for those affected by mental illness.

The 2012 Interfaith Conference was a success in Tucson.

It was a day of information and inspiration. Over 400 people of varying faiths came together around a common cause on Friday, April 27: better responding to mental illness and exploring local resources for care.

This unique conference, hosted by Interfaith Community Services and held at St. Philip’s In The Hills Episcopal Church, included presentations by noted local and national experts in the faith and mental health fields. Attendees packed workshops and breakout sessions exploring such topics as being an advocate for a loved one affected by mental illness, understanding depression, suicide prevention, mental health issues in the aging and youth/young adult populations, and successful care models being utilized by faith communities to be more welcoming places for congregants struggling with mental illness.

A resource fair featured informational tables and hand-outs from over 20 local agencies and organizations providing mental health services. Go to Interfaith Tucson for a listing of local care resources.

One attendee came away with “…the overwhelming sense that together we can make a difference. Clearly there is much work that we still need to do,” she added.

According to the Surgeon General, one in five Americans will suffer a mental disorder at some point in their lives. Many will first turn to their faith leader for help and guidance. The conference was designed to equip attendees with information for understanding mental illness and the role of faith in the healing process. It also provided tools for being better prepared to relate to congregants coping with mental illness.

“What can we, as faith leaders, do to better help someone who is struggling with mental illness?” asked one lay leader to a presenter who had shared her personal story of caring for her mother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “Be there” was the answer. “Be compassionate. Be available.”

“I’ve been dealing with my husband who has bi-polar disorder,” said one attendee. “I’ve been shouldering this alone. You’ve inspired me to call our family priest.”

Added one speaker, “I’ve learned that mental illness is a part of you. It doesn’t define you.”

Faith Communities and Mental Illness: Tools for Response and Care was made possible by funding from The David C. and Laura M. Lovell Foundation. Additional support was provided by more than a dozen churches, community agencies, and businesses.

Conference Follow-up

Additional efforts will continue the momentum from this inspiring conference:

  • A “how-to” manual is available for communities interested in providing a similar conference to raise awareness of mental illness in congregations and to facilitate interaction between the faith community and the mental health provider community.
  • A resource kit is being distributed to congregations throughout Tucson. These kits include a series of flyers addressing various aspects of mental illness and faith communities, worship resources, a listing of mental health agencies in Tucson and Pima County, and information on activities for Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 7-12, 2012.)
  • A Lunch and Learn gathering, “Becoming a Welcoming Community” will take place on October 11, 2012, 12:00-1:30 p.m. at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (2331 E. Adams St., Tucson). Dr. Peter Likins, president emeritus of the University of Arizona, will speak about his family’s experience with mental illness. Also, members of two congregations which are providing support and education around mental illness will share their insights for open discussion. Anyone interested in receiving a “how-to” manual, resource kit, or in registering for the Lunch and Learn are invited to contact Interfaith Community Services at 520-297-2738 ext 233 or talexander@icstucson.org.

The Rev. Karen MacDonald is the Faith Community Engagement Manager at Interfaith Community Services in Tucson, Arizona.