Faith Communities Gather to Host Mental Illness Conference

| April 18, 2014

Daylong conference focuses on faith, mental illness

Interfaith Community Services will present a unique, daylong conference at the end of this month on the powerful intersection of faith and mental illness.

Funded by the David C. and Lura M. Lovell Foundation and the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, “Faith Communities & Mental Illness: Mind, Body, Spirit and Community” will provide lay people, faith leaders, chaplains, counselors, and anyone whose lives have been affected by mental illness with insights, tools for understanding, and approaches for offering compassionate support.

The conference takes place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 25 at Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway Blvd. Cost is $40 per person, or $30 per person for a team of two or more registrants. Register online at www.icstucson.org or by calling (520) 297-6049, ext. 233. The fee includes presentations, materials, continental breakfast, lunch, and a certificate of attendance.

In any given year, about one in four Americans ages 18 or older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Surveys show that more than 40 percent of people who seek help with mental health issues turn first to a clergy member or other congregational health leader; however, faith leaders report they often lack sufficient knowledge of available resources to adequately assist with this complex issue.

The conference will feature three national keynote speakers from diverse faith traditions speaking on mental health. Rabbi Simkha Weintraub will offer a Jewish perspective on depression, while Terrie M. Williams, author of “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” will use her personal testimony to talk about what mental illness looks, feels, and sounds like. Nancy Kehoe of the Religious of the Sacred Heart – an international congregation of Catholic woman – will discuss ways faith communities can be neighborly places for people coping with mental illness.

National and local experts from the behavioral health and faith fields will present workshops on a wide range of topics, including aging and mental health, faith communities as advocates, mental health first aid, suicide prevention, reducing stigma, and veterans issues. In addition, participants can pick up information and talk to representatives from local organizations that provide mental health services at the conference’s resource fair.

The idea for the conference began in early spring 2011 in the wake of the January 8 tragedy in Tucson, in which a shooter who was later diagnosed with serious mental illness shot and killed six people and injured 13 others, including then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As the community struggled with the events of that day, misperceptions about mental illness and a lack of awareness of available care resources became apparent, as did the important role faith communities often play for serving individuals and families affected by mental health issues.

ICS held its first conference of this type two years ago, in April 2012. Since then, ICS has continued to present mental illness workshops in a lunch-and-learn format.

“We are so pleased with the outpouring of community support and the representation of so many different faith communities and behavioral health professionals,” said Bonnie Kampa, Interfaith Community Services CEO, who anticipates more than 300 attendees from the Tucson and Phoenix area.

In addition to Weintraub, Williams, and Kehoe, conference presenters include the Rev. Barbara Anderson, Kenneth Dunlap, Shoshana Elkins, the Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, Veda Kowalski, Michael S. Kuntzelman, Julie Mack, Steve Nagle, Joe Nutini, Barbra Quade, Louise Rempfer, Ralph H. Clarke Romans, Ralph Romero, Eric D. Stark, Ole J. Thienhaus, and Fred Wiggins. Visit www.icstucson.org to download a conference brochure for complete details on workshops and speakers.

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