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Faith Communities Care About Mental Illness

by Mary Beth Coudal


Logo of the Teleconference, Brush Painting Rainbow

   For the first time, The United Methodist Church has begun a nationwide discussion of how faith communities can give dignity and support to people with mental illnesses. A three-and-a-half hour video teleconference, "Mental Illness: Paint a Different Picture," held November 10, 1998, was sponsored by United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries Health and Relief, the Board of Church and Society, Pathways to Promise, and United Methodist Communications. The program was seen by hundreds of people from 88 remote satellite downlink sites and cable stations around the country.

   One in four families is affected by mental illness, yet church members are reluctant to offer the kind of helping hand individuals give to families who suffer from other kinds of diseases.

   The six panelists spoke passionately and from a personal point of view about the cchallenges faced by families and individuals who have mental illness. One panelist, the Rev. James McIntire, a pastor at First United Methodist Church of Germantown and director of the Center for Spirituality and Disability in Philadelphia, has wrestled with depression for years. Unlike others on the panel, Rev. McIntire found the congregation where he worked supportive and open.

   Rev. McIntire's family members, too, struggled--his father with depression and his 10-year-old daughter with a developmental disability. "She and my father have really been a powerful piece of my faith development over the years and have really become a center for vision in ministry in working with people with disabilities and making the church a more open and inclusive place," said Rev. McIntire.

   The Rev. Kathy Reeves, staff of Ministries to People with Disabilities at the General Board of Global Ministries, said churches must "be the supportive community that we are called to be as people of God. I really appreciate the conference. I believe it opened up new opportunities for churches and faith communities to embark upon discussion in many situations that have been seen as uncomfortable."

   Along with about ten people, Jane Baxter, a member of Calvary United Methodist Church in Nashville, watched the satellite transmission. She reported that it sparked lively discussions and personal sharing among viewers. She said the teleconference "let people know they're not alone, that there is hope. The speakers presented a very positive and hopeful approach to the problems faced by families. The investment of staff time, talents, and resources of The United Methodist Church spoke eloquently of the need for public education."

   Like those on the panel, Jane Baxter encouraged families and loved ones with mental illness to seek out the national support, information, and referral group NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. NAMI's phone number is 800-950-6264. Their webpage is http://www.NAMI.org. The phone number for the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), another informational and advocacy group spreading tolerance and improving mental health services, is 800-969-6642. Their website address is http://www.nmha.org/ .

   An edited videotape of the teleconference, including a discussion guide, is available for $24.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. To order, call 800-251-4091.

November 24, 1998

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