‘Faith Connections’ conference on mental health

Mar. 05, 2014 @ 03:39 PM

For the fourth year, the Faith Connections on Mental Illness conference will bring clergy, laity and health professionals together to share ideas and expertise about the intersection of religion and mental health issues. The conference will be held March 28 at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill.
Kim McCahan Batson has attended every conference, first when she was church secretary at Amity United Methodist Church, then through her own church, the Church of the Holy Family (Episcopal) in Chapel Hill, where she serves on the pastoral care committee. Most of those who attend are professionals, she said, and receive continuing education credits, as well as those who are involved in their faith communities, faith counselors, and people who have had personal experience in their families with mental health issues and want to bring that ministry to their church, synagogue or mosque.
“It’s so easy if someone breaks a leg or has a heart attack, to call the church for help. With mental health, it’s harder. They think there’s a stigma,” Batson said.
A cherished benefit of being part of a faith community is the comfort offered in times of illness, stress and sorrow, she said.
“Too often, that support seems to mysteriously vanish when the illness is mental, rather than physical, in origin. Some do it out of ignorance – they just don’t know how to react,” Batson said. “Others believe that mental illness signifies insufficient faith and may even turn their back on those who suffer.”
The conference features speakers who are experts in connecting faith and health. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Harold Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health and a professor at Duke University Medical Center. Other speakers are Warren Kinghorn, assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology at Duke Divinity School as well as staff psychiatrist at the Durham VA Medical Center; and Tonya Armstrong, minister of congregational care and counseling at Union Baptist Church in Durham and director of the Armstrong Center for Hope.
Armstrong, who has served as a minister at Union Baptist since 2000, said she has been involved with Faith Connections since it was meetings rather than conferences. About 250 to 300 people will attend the conference this month. The scale of the group has grown over the years, she said.
Armstrong will lead a break out session during the conference about ways Union Baptist has been able to connect people with mental health services, as well as how to overcome the stigma of mental health.
“Faith communities helping is a bonus, but doesn’t overcome the stigma,” she said. Union Baptist has access to licensed mental health professionals as well as trained Stephen Ministers who offer emotional support, she said. The church also started grief support groups last year.
Registration is $25 until Friday, and then $35 per person until the conference. Continuing education credits are available for an additional $20 through the Wake Area Health Education Center. Register for credits at www.wakeahec.org. The mission of Faith Connections on Mental Illness, an interfaith coalition, is to “work with all faith communities to welcome, include, support, educate, and advocate for individuals and families who are living with mental illness.” The conference will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 28 at St. Thomas More Catholic, 940 Carmichael St., Chapel Hill. To register, visit www.faithconnectionsonmentalillness.org.