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‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ summit connects faith, wellness

Depression is a dark cloud that’s been hanging over too many people in this state for too long.

It’s that thing we don’t speak of, or whisper it at social gatherings.

“Did you hear about Cousin Myrtle’s boy, George? He’s been in a funk since he lost his job down at the mill. Pass the potato salad, please ma’am.”

Depression is one of the leading causes for people missing work and accounts for a loss of $194 billion dollars.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, mental and behavioral disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

Mental Health America ranks Mississippi 49th in access to mental health resources.

Belhaven University is mobilizing a collaborative effort among churches to address the issue of mental health in Mississippi.

Virtually all of the challenges facing the state have a mental health component, and the church is the first place people turn to for help.

Bridging the gap between church, mental health and health leaders, Belhaven’s Institute for International Care and Counsel will host 150 pastors, mental health workers, social workers, nurses and community leaders today and Saturday. They will explore ways to work together in advocacy, prevention, support and training.

It’s called “Mind, Body, Spirit: Connecting Faith and Wellness — A Summit on the Church, Health and Mental Health.” It will include keynote speakers, workshops, discussions and several short talks related to health and mental health. The event will specifically focus on raising awareness, reducing stigma, creating stronger relationships and building a sustainable plan for the future of mental health in Mississippi.

Dr. Bradford Smith, director of the Institute, said the summit is a collaborative effort. “We are humbled to act as a catalyst in initiating it and helping it move forward,” he said.

Dr. Sidney Hankerson, assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, College of Surgeons and Physicians and a nationally known researcher on churches and mental health and Bishop Ronnie Crudup, administrative bishop for Fellowship of International Churches and senior pastor of New Horizon Church International, will be the guest speakers headlining the summit.

Belhaven University President Roger Parrott hopes the summit will not just be an event, but that it will be a launching pad, “igniting a movement to challenge churches in Mississippi to embrace mental health and wellness ministry and be equipped to do so.”

Over the past six months, a Belhaven research team conducted focus groups with local churches to evaluate their strengths and challenges in responding to people with mental conditions. “One of the key findings is that pastors feel ill-equipped to preach and teach on mental health,” revealed Dr. Smith. “In addition, they often simply don’t know how to respond to the complex mental health needs of their people. There was a clear call from pastors and other church leaders for more training.”

The summit is laying the groundwork for future training, conferences and projects.

Donna Campbell is managing editor. She can be reached at donna.campbell@dailyleader.com.