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Let’s talk: Upstate mental health conference to end silence on suicide, depression, anxiety

Let’s talk: Upstate mental health conference to end silence on suicide, depression, anxiety
Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

By Jessica Brodie

EASLEY—Her self-esteem battles began in early childhood. By 11, Janie (not her real name) was cutting to relieve the pain. By 12, she was experimenting with bulimia, and by 13, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. At 15, she swallowed a bottle of pills in an attempt to end her life.

Janie was one of the lucky ones—thanks to strong parental support, psychiatric intervention and an in-patient stay at a mental health facility, she was able to get the help she needed. Today, she helps other youth and adults struggling with the issues she battled.

Others, however, are not so fortunate.

Advocates in the Upstate are hoping a mental health conference, slated for Feb. 22, 2020, might be able to help.

According to the South Carolina Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative, there was a 12 percent increase in suicide deaths in youth ages 10-24 between 2015 and 2017, and one person dies from suicide in South Carolina every 10 hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It was responsible for more than 47,000 deaths in 2017, resulting in about one death every 11 minutes.

It affects all ages and is the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age.

According to the National Institute of Health, in 2017 an estimated 11 million U.S. adults (4.5 percent of the population) had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment. Approximately 35 percent did not receive treatment. Also that year, an estimated 2.3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment; approximately 60.1 percent did not receive treatment.

NIH also reports an estimated 19.1 percent of U.S. adults and 31.9 percent of adolescents had an anxiety disorder in the past year. Of adolescents with anxiety, an estimated 8.3 percent had severe impairment.

To help spread awareness about the dangers of anxiety, depression and suicide, one United Methodist Church, Bethesda UMC, Easley, is hosting a mental health conference Saturday, Feb. 22, called “Let’s Talk: Ending the Silence.”

Free and open to all, the conference will begin at 8 a.m. and end at noon with exhibits, plenaries, breakout sessions and more, all designed to increase recognition of the signs of anxiety, depression and suicide risk; identify helpful ways for the church to address these issues with members and the community; and identify resources available in the community to help individuals and families dealing with anxiety, depression and suicide risk.

“We really believe our local churches can help with this issue,” said the Rev. Cathy Joens, Anderson District congregational specialist who is helping to organize the conference. “We need to better resource our churches so they can help folks in their communities and in the life of the church.

“The more we can equip our churches to understand and minister to one another, the better.”

This is the second year the Anderson District of the UMC has hosted a mental health conference. Last year’s event, also held at Bethesda UMC, had a broader scope, not only addressing depression and suicide but also dementia, addiction, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep,’ as I have liked to characterize the program,” said Peggy Dulaney, conference’s lead organizers. “This year we decided to focus more in depth on high-volume, high-risk problems. Anxiety, depression and suicide are so intertwined that it can be difficult to tease them apart. Thus, we decided to address these three issues together by age groups.”

There will be two breakout sessions by age: one focused on children and adolescents and how they experience anxiety, depression and suicide, and the other on adults and senior adults. Additionally, one breakout session will be an overview of the Mental Health First Aid training course, and a fourth breakout session will be an overview of two programs offered free through the South Carolina Department of Mental Health (SafeTalk, on how to talk to someone you think might be suicidal, and Connect, for those impacted by a suicide).

Dulaney said Ken Dority, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Greenville, will also share about FaithNet, a program offered by NAMI on how to start conversations about mental health in families and churches.

“I do believe that this whole conference and so many other efforts that seem to be emerging around mental health are all the work of God. So many things have just fallen together,” Dulaney said. “The synergy and energy around this whole topic have been absolutely amazing.”

Attendees can choose from two of four breakout sessions:

  • Anxiety, depression and suicide prevention in children and adolescents (taught by Licensed Professional Counselor Carly Patterson)
  • Anxiety, depression and suicide prevention in adults (taught by Tony Johnson, regional executive director, Mental Health America)
  • Overview of mental health first aid training (taught by the Rev. Kurt Stutler, pastor and director at the South Main Chapel & Mercy Center in Anderson)
  • Tools for suicide prevention and recovery for those impacted (taught by Phil Manley of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health)

“We believe that the churches can play a vital role in addressing issues of mental health among their congregations and within the community,” Dulaney added.

While the conference is free, organizers ask attendees to register. Register online at http://anderson.umcsc.org/ending-the-silence-registration/, or reach out to organizers directly. Send name, church, district and email/phone to Attn: Cathy, P.O. Box 1057, Anderson, SC 29622, or email that information to cljoens@umcsc.org (subject line should say MHC).

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