Service to observe Mental Health Month

PARKERSBURG – A Communities of Faith worship service will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church, 1341 Juliana St., Parkersburg.

The service will be held in observance of May as Mental Health Month, and is sponsored by the Mental Health Ministries Committee of the Parkersburg Vicariate. The ecumenical worship service is meant to encourage understanding and to provide hope for those with mental illness, their families and care providers, and faith communities.

The Rev. Mike Seely of First Presbyterian Church will co-lead the service with Msgr. Joseph Peterson of Saint Margaret Mary Church, Parkersburg, and the Rev. William Thomas, interim pastor of the Parchment Valley Baptist Church in Ripley.

Vocalist Yvonne Crist of Athens and Amy Sinclair, music director for First Presbyterian Church, will also participate.

In addition to the service, a support group for family members of those with mental illness is being formed, and will be led by Patrice Pooler. The group will meet at First Presbyterian Church, with the initial meeting planned after Sunday’s service, in the Harris Room. Anyone interested in participating with the group is invited to attend.

There will be an opportunity after the service for walking the labyrinth in the First Presbyterian Church memorial prayer garden.

“Communities of faith have been as guilty as anyone in reluctance … not knowing what to do” to best serve those with mental illness and their families and caregivers, said Sarah Townsend, director of finance at First Presbyterian Church. “We hope this will start a support network for family members. It’s a very lonely road.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental disorder. But, according to Communities of Faith, the history of failure in the U.S. to provide adequate care for people with serious mental illness has been devastating.

“Our neglect has contributed to homelessness, addiction and incarceration,” the group said in a news release. But “many people with serious mental illness do not face such overt problems as homelessness, addiction or imprisonment. Yet, solely on account of their illness they struggle with society’s sometimes subtle but nevertheless destructive attitudes toward persons with a serious mental illness.”

Faith communities have many ways in which to expand their ministries, the group said, such as educating themselves and others about the facts and evolving research on mental illness, and the mental health care system in the U.S. Communities of faith can make commitments to be caring when it comes to those facing mental illness, and welcome such individuals. They can provide support systems and resources, and become advocates for improving the mental health system in the U.S.

Therefore, according to the group, the goal of Sunday’s worship service is to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness and to promote the understanding and support to improve the mental health system in our communities.

“The committee hopes to initiate interest in developing support groups for families and encourage people to examine and modify attitudes toward the mentally ill,” the news release said. “Communities of faith are encouraged to offer welcome and sensitivity to those with mental illness and their families.”