Local | Mind, Body & Spirit

Mental illness focus of faith leaders’ conference

Interfaith Community Services will host a conference, “Faith Communities and Mental Illness: Tools for Response and Care,” on Friday, April 27, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Philips in the Hills Episcopal Church. Created in response to the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting tragedy in Tucson, this “first time in Arizona” educational event will offer clergy, lay faith leaders, social services professionals and others additional resources for supporting Tucsonans with mental illness.

More than 40 percent of Americans with mental health issues first turn to rabbis and other clergy, which is twice as many as those who initially approach a psychiatrist, psychologist or family physician, according to national surveys conducted by Mental Health Ministries. A study released in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that over half of the people in the United States will experience a mental disorder at some point in their lives.

“We want this conference to not just be a great, exciting and interesting day, but tomorrow when a congregant comes in with something going on, [attendees] will be able to help this person,” says conference steering committee member Shira Ledman, president and CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Services. “We hope that a workshop will trigger an ‘aha’ moment, to raise awareness” about the warning signs of mental illness.

The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, founder of Mental Health Ministries, based in San Diego, Calif., will deliver the keynote address, “Mental Illness as a Spiritual Journey,” followed by two panel discussions. Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El will participate with other faith leaders on “Why This Conference Matters: Mental Illness in the Faith Community Setting.”

After-lunch workshop choices will include “Addiction and Mental Illness,” “The Importance of Recognizing Depression,” “Aging and Mental Health Issues: Is It Serious and Can You Help?” and “Suicide Awareness and Prevention.”

“Being an Advocate for a Family Member or Congregant” will feature Rabbi Helen Cohn of Congregation M’Kor Hayim along with Susan Smiley, producer of “Out of the Shadow,” an acclaimed documentary about her mother’s secret struggle with schizophrenia.

A key goal of the conference, funded by the David C. and Lura M. Lovell Foundation, is to help reduce the stigma of mental illness, says Ledman. “I think it would be good for members of the Jewish community to turn out,” she told the AJP.

“We’re seeing the steady growth of counseling services, especially for elders and families. What if an elderly congregant usually attends services but then isn’t there,” says Ledman. “Contact is made and the person is ‘not feeling right, not eating or sleeping,’ which can be signs of depression. Maybe a congregant can help get the person to the doctor” for evaluation.

At JFCS, “we can almost always fit a person in for counseling services. People think they can only go if they’re poor or have to pay $100,” she says, but JFCS has a sliding fee scale, plus grants to ensure that those needing mental health services can be seen.

There will be a resource fair at the conference, featuring more than 20 agencies that deal with issues ranging from serious mental illness to substance abuse. “We want people to take home tools,” says Ledman, so they can support healthy recovery for someone affected by mental illness.

Advance registration is $35 per individual or $25 each for three people from one organization; registration at the door is $40. For more information or to register, contact Terry Alexander at 297-6049, ext. 233, or talexander@icstucson.org, or visit icstucson.org. St. Philips is located at 4440 N. Campbell Ave. at River Road.