Saturday, April 13, 2002

Faith Matters

Mentally ill need embracing

        Some churches asked Renee Kopache to leave.

        Members of other churches embraced her, taking the woman into their homes to help her cope with the suicidal thoughts, depression and other symptoms of bipolar and borderline personality disorders.

        “For many, many people with mental illness, one of their biggest challenges is lack of friendship, lack of support. The church can provide that,” says Ms. Kopache, 38, of Western Hills.

        “It can be devastating not to find that acceptance and social contact at church.”

        Misconceptions about mental illness abound.

        Consider that a recent survey by the National Mental Health Association found 71 percent thought mental illness was caused by emotional weakness. A third of those surveyed said sinful or immoral behavior caused mental illness, while nearly half said people “bring on their mental illness in some way.”

        Mental illness has a huge stigma, says Victor Lloyd. He coordinates Hamilton County's Compeer program, which matches volunteer adults with people who live with mental illness.

        People of faith often ask for prayer for physical ailments or difficult decisions but rarely feel comfortable enough to talk about their mental illness.

        “I'm willing to bet a paycheck that in any congregation you walk into there's going to be people with mental illness sitting in the pews, struggling,” Mr. Lloyd says. “Mental illness is a big, unspoken need.”

        One in five Americans — about 54 million — suffer from mental illness during a given year, studies show. And the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network estimates 90 percent of the 30,000 suicide victims in the United States each year have a mental illness.

        The Mental Health Association of the Cincinnati Area received a $30,000 grant last year from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to educate and find volunteers in the faith communities.

        The Golden Rule “seems to be an underlying thread that forms the fabric of every major religion,” says Mr. Lloyd. “The way that we treat one another should be based on how we want to be treated.”

        The Mental Health Association is hosting a Clergy Training Day, a workshop for ordained and lay faith leaders to learn more about mental illness and how to help.

        “We want to educate clergy and ministers that these folks are trying to find a place” of acceptance, Mr. Lloyd says.

        The workshop runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday at Lebanon Presbyterian Church, 123 N. East St. Cost is $20.

        Information: 513-287-8540, Ext. 14.

Soul Prints

        Popular author and spiritual thinker Rabbi Marc Gafni comes to town this week to speak about his book Soul Prints: Your Path to Fulfillment.

        Dean of a spiritual think-tank in Jerusalem, Rabbi Gafni explores his idea that each person has a soul print, a personal signature like a fingerprint that is different for everyone and contains the “contour and content of your soul.”

        He speaks Wednesday at the Mercantile Library , 414 Walnut St., from 6 to 8 p.m. Cost is $35. Information: 621-0717.

        The rabbi also will speak at Christ Church Cathedral on April 20, at 11:30 a.m. in the Centennial Chapel. This event is free.

        For more religion listings, check out, keyword: events. E-mail or call 755-4144.



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