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Al­so­brooks, County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker (D), the Rev. An­dre Ivy of First Bap­tist Church of Mar­shall Heights, Mount Ararat Bap­tist Church Clin­i­cal Di­rec­tor Taunya Tins­ley, the Rev. Don­ald Mar­bury of Ebenezer AME Church in Brunswick and Georgetown Univer­sity Med­i­cal School Psy­chi­a­try As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Al­fiee Bre­land-Noble.

Al­so­brooks kicked off the con­fer­ence with a dis­cus­sion on con­fronting the ele­phant in the room — in­creased vi­o­lence among men­tally ill in­di­vid­u­als and the need for more train­ing and help to pro­tect fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially chil­dren.

“What we’ve no­ticed is that fam­ily vi­o­lence re­mains con­sis­tent,” Al­so­brooks said. “This is con­fus­ing to us some­times when we re­ally con­sider the fact that it is more likely, in some re­spects now, that you will be killed or harmed by some­one you know and love than a stranger. What we have come to un­der­stand in con­nec­tion with that is the very pow­er­ful link be­tween men­tal ill­ness and much of what we’re see­ing in our fam­i­lies.”

Hav­ing spo­ken with the di­rec­tor of the county cor­rec­tions depart­ment, Al­so­brooks said well over 25 per­cent of peo­ple who are ad­mit­ted to jail suf­fer from men­tal ill­ness, while 70 per­cent of peo­ple are in­tox­i­cated, high on drugs or have an ad­dic­tion of some kind.

For Al­so­brooks, she said she is con­cerned and dis­turbed by the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem’s non­cha­lant re­sponse to help­ing those in­di­vid­u­als in need. In­stead of find­ing ef­fec­tive ways to ad­dress their needs, men­tally ill peo­ple and ad­dicts are in­car­cer­ated, she said.

“There al­ways is a symp­tom of some sort and we some­times turn our head the other way,” Al­so­brooks said. “We pros­e­cute over 3,000 [do­mes­tic vi­o­lence] cases per year in Prince Ge­orge’s County. I have to tell you that less than 50 per­cent of the peo­ple who come for­ward — out of that 3,000 who have been in­jured or harmed — ever come back to us for any help. They go back home. … There are chil­dren in these house­holds who are watch­ing this vi­o­lence ev­ery­day [which has] a very dev­as­tat­ing im­pact. This is where we have to work harder to make sure that our chil­dren are safe. I urge you to join me in do­ing what we can to speak out not just for the adults suf­fer­ing in these sit­u­a­tions, but the chil­dren who are the in­vis­i­ble vic­tims of what we are see­ing.”

Ivy said the chal­lenge in the faith com­mu­nity is that there are so many peo­ple whose men­tal health/ill­ness has not been at­tended to or ad­dressed be­cause of the so­cial stigma as­so­ci­ated with the dis­ease.

“Our churches are filled on Sundays with per­sons grap­pling with the harsh re­al­i­ties of liv­ing with is­sues and con­cerns that they are afraid or fear­ful to dis­cuss with any­one, es­pe­cially those in their con­gre­ga­tion,” said Ivy, who has worked as a clin­i­cal ther­a­pist. “They sit on our pews, sing in our choirs, sit on our boards, work with our min­istries and sadly, some are as­signed to work with our chil­dren. Many of these is­sues have never been ad­dressed for what­ever rea­son and what we’ve done in the church, es­pe­cially the African-Amer­i­can church, is we’ve al­lowed ab­nor­mal­i­ties to be treated as nor­mal­i­ties. In re­al­ity, these in­di­vid­u­als are cry­ing for help. Those who did not get the help but need it, many times at­tempt to keep it a se­cret from their fam­ily and friends.”

Ac­cord­ing to a 2002 re­port from the Of­fi­cial Jour­nal of the World Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion, the be­hav­ioral im­pact, or dis­crim­i­na­tion, that re­sults from pub­lic stigma may take four forms which in­clude with­hold­ing help, avoid­ance, co­er­cive treat­ment and seg­re­gated in­sti­tu­tions. Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have shown that the pub­lic will with­hold help to some mi­nor­ity groups be­cause of cor­re­spond­ing stigma. A more ex­treme form of this be­hav­ior is so­cial avoid­ance, where the pub­lic strives to not in­ter­act with peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness al­to­gether, the re­port noted.

Nearly ev­ery per­son sit­ting in the pews has been touched in some way by men­tal ill­ness. And yet in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies con­tinue to suf­fer in si- lence or stop com­ing to their faith com­mu­nity be­cause they are not re­ceiv­ing the sup­port they so des­per­ately need. They be­come de­tached from their faith com­mu­nity and their spir­i­tu­al­ity, which is an im­por­tant source of heal­ing, whole­ness and hope in times of per­sonal dark­ness, ac­cord­ing to the Men­tal Health Min­istries web­site.

“There are spir­i­tual lead­ers and pas­tors who may not be equipped to ad­dress these con­cerns. You run the risk of get­ting into trou­ble and pos­si­ble lit­i­ga­tion be­cause you’re try­ing to han­dle an is­sue that you’re not qual­i­fied to deal with,” Ivy said. “Pos­i­tive thought, re­li­gion and spir­i­tu­al­ity can be a pow­er­ful tool in re­cov­ery but it shouldn’t be the only form of treat­ment.”

Ivy said pas­tors aren’t called to be ther­a­pists or coun­selors. Rather, their duty is to guide men­tally ill peo­ple to a place where they can re­ceive help and the ser­vices they need.

“It is our job as the church to meet per­sons right where they are. Men­tal health doesn’t have to be a bad word in the church, but it can be a start­ing point for pro- vid­ing as­sis­tance to those who need it,” he said.

“Our No. 1 Christian ethic is to love our neigh­bors and some­times lov­ing our neigh­bors does not mean turn­ing our head,” Tins­ley said. “The first place most peo­ple will go to is the church in­stead of a pro­fes­sional coun­selor. And if some­body is go­ing to the church seek­ing help, clergy and spir­i­tual lead­ers need to have a col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with pro­fes­sion­als that are in the com­mu­nity.”

Baker, whose wife has Alzheimer’s dis­ease, said the best way to take on the men­tal ill­ness and health is­sues in the com­mu­nity is to look at it holis­ti­cally and col­lec­tively. The more the com­mu­nity talks about it, the bet­ter it will be, he said.

“There are peo­ple all around us who have men­tal health is­sues and so many don’t know it,” said Baker. “Whether it is Alzheimer’s or de­pres­sion, we must bring men­tal health to the fore­front. … To­gether, we must make this a pri­or­ity for our com­mu­nity. I be­lieve that this con­fer­ence is an im­por­tant step to help us get there.”

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