That simple yet powerful sentence was the opening invitation from the convener of a 5 day workshop that I am currently taking. Sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Maryland, I am being trained to become an instructor for what is called Mental Health First Aid. Similar to a First Aid course for medical situations, this training is focused on mental health issues. Topics include depression, anxiety, phobias, suicide, psychosis, substance abuse and eating disorders. I am in a class of about 20 other professionals including a group from the Baltimore County Police Crisis team, and a number of social workers from central Maryland. I am the only clergy which is sort of fun.
So you might ask, why am I doing this? My primary motivation is reflected in the opening sentence above: “It is time we talk about mental health challenges.” I want to be a resource for the parish and the community for education and referrals. Mental illness carries with it the potential for stigma and shame. Too often it is hidden in the stories of our lives. And keeping those secrets only contributes to the challenges of recovery and acceptance. Almost 19% of the US population experiences some form of mental illness in any one year. That is not a small number. My own life has been touched by two extended family members with mental illness. I suppose that is an additional reason I am passionate about speaking out.
I found it interesting that as I am writing this on Tuesday, this morning on Good Morning America, Ginger Zee, ABC News chief meteorologist was interviewed about her newly published memoir, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them, I Am One. In it, she describes her struggle with depression, her addiction to self harm and her decision to get in-patient help. You might find the interview of interest: https://www.yahoo.com/gma/natural-disaster-ginger-zee-opens-battle-depression-memoir-134107942–abc-news-books.html She ends the interview with: “I fought a disease called depression that a lot of people fight every single day. Unlike other diseases, there is a stigma surrounding it and I want to help people. The hundreds of thousands or millions of people who are dealing with or dealt with something I did, I want them to be able to fight without shame.”
That is my hope for our community. I choose to be an active voice. If you are interested in being a part of a group to raise awareness of mental health issues, I invite you to email me. Let’s explore productive ways to educate and inform. It’s time…..