Mental-health initiative in Northern Illinois

OAK LAWN, Ill. — The Northern Illinois Conference is undertaking a pilot program to pull mental-health ministries into action in local congregations and their communities. The “Mental Health Initiative” will kick off with two days of intensive training Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, at First United Methodist Church, here, from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Mental Health icon

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The United Methodist General Boards of Church & Society and Global Ministries are producing resources to help congregations participate in the observance that was approved by Congress. The head above is a graphic from a bulletin insert that will be available for download next week.

The concept of establishing mental-health ministries within congregations was approved by the General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-setting body, when it adopted a resolution in 1992 concerning mental illness. Succinctly, the resolution, which has been amended and readopted in both 2004 and 2012, calls upon local churches to be “Caring Communities” bringing all persons into a community of love central to the teachings of Christ.

Northern Illinois is kicking off its initiative duriing Mental Health Awareness Month, which is observed throughout May in the United States. The month, approved by Congress, raises awareness about mental illnesses, such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It also draws attention to suicide, which some mental illnesses may cause. The month educates communities about disorders and reducing the stigma that surrounds them. 

The Northern Illinois initiative offers a two-pronged approach of Caring Communities and Mental Health First Aid.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Magrini developed this initiative in partnership with Lisa Goodale, MSW, a member of North Shore United Methodist Church in Glencoe. Magrini is a deacon whose full-time appointment in the Northern Illinois Conference is to the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Chicago.

Cheryl Magrini

(Photo by John White, 2011)

“This began from a conversation that I had with Lisa,” said Magrini, who serves as vice-chair of the national DBSA’s Board of Directors. “It is our vision to bring mental-health awareness, education and the implementation of congregational ministries into the local church and community.”

Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance

The initiative is sponsored by the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance Chicago Loop Chapter, a non-profit affiliate of the national DBSA. Magrini is the first clergyperson elected to the board of the national DBSA.

Northern Illinois United Methodist Foundation awarded the initiative a grant as part of a program to support pilot, seed-bearing ministries.

The Northern Illinois initiative has significant support from the Rev. Dr. Tracy Malone, superintendent of Northern Illinois’ Chicago Southern District, according to Magrini. Furthermore, the Northern Illinois United Methodist Foundation awarded the initiative a grant as part of a program to support pilot, seed-bearing ministries.

Son’s suicide

“On a personal note, my family founded the DBSA Chicago Loop Chapter after the death of our son, Dan, who passed away from bipolar disorder on June 6, 2011, taking his own life at the age of 23, a high-risk age,” Magrini said.

In May 2011, Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries dedicated three segments of its “Different Drummers” TV program to the Magrini family and its experiences with bipolar disorder. One relates the story of Dan and his death. The second is a professional dramatization of Magrini’s personal journey as a clergyperson and mother dealing with bipolar disorder.

The third focuses on mental health and young adults. It features the Magrinis’now 24-year-old son, John, who powerfully shares his story as the brother of Dan.

The three shows are available on YouTube:

Intensive workshops

The Northern Illinois program will not be a typical presentation-format seminar, according to Magrini. Instead, she said it will offer two, day-long intensive workshops.

Attendance is limited to 30 participants who will be trained on:

  • The non-profit Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, and
  • the Caring Congregations Ministry.

The MHFA track will enable participants to become Mental Health “First Aiders,” a certification that requires 12 hours training. Participants will be able to recognize and respond through education, compassion and helpful steps to aid a person who is struggling with mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid – USA is managed, operated and disseminated by three organizations: the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Maryland Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Dept. of Mental Health.

The MHFA program was created in Australia and is now conducted in 14 countries.

The Caring Congregation Ministry Plan will enable attendees to become “Caring Connecters.” They will learn how to create a hands-on congregational ministry on mental health. Two days of training are required.

Ripples in a pond

The Caring Congregations Ministry was developed by the founder of Mental Health Ministries, the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder of San Diego, Calif. She developed Caring Congregations in consultation with the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care at the General Board of Church & Society, guided by the United Methodist resolution.

Magrini emphasized that her goal is to create “ripples in a pond” toward promulgating mental-health ministries in local congregations. Attendees of the May event will be empowered to bring the Mental Health First Aid education to their congregation or lead their congregation in implementing Caring Congregations.

Cost of the May program is $25. Magrini said cost is kept down thanks to the Foundation grant. Both Goodale and Magrini are donating their instructor fees. Goodale, MSW, is vice president of Training at the national DBSA and a Certified Instructor for Mental Health First Aid.

The United Methodist Women at First United Methodist Church is providing hospitality with a continental breakfast, and a light lunch, both days. And, the Chicago Southern District is donating toward food costs.

“This event, with the goal of being done in other places in the Northern Illinois Conference, won’t ever be at this low fee again unless there is a major grant awarded in the future,” Magrini commented.

Contact Cheryl Magrini by email or phone, (312) 552-0082, with questions and to receive the registration form.

Magrini has high hopes for this mental-health initiative. “Participants will become the hands of Christ reaching out with education and compassion,” she said hopefully.

Editor's note: The General Boards of Church & Society and Global Ministries are cooperating in producing resources, including a bulletin insert, for Mental Health Awareness Month (May). For more information about the month or to share information about your organization's activities, contact the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care at the General Board of Church & Society.

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