Anoka church hosts community discussion on mental illness

by Cynthia Blesi
For the Union

Zion Lutheran Church recently stepped out in faith and took on an difficult topic – mental health.

Jade Owens (from left), Philip Beyers, Mason Beyers and Anna Loe (left to right) answered questions during the “Let’s talk About It Anoka County” held at Zion Lutheran Church Monday, April 23. Photo by Cynthia Blesi
Jade Owens (from left), Philip Beyers, Mason Beyers and Anna Loe (left to right) answered questions during the “Let’s talk About It Anoka County” held at Zion Lutheran Church Monday, April 23. Photo by Cynthia Blesi

April 23, the Anoka church hosted “Let’s Talk About It – Anoka County,” a series of events designed to bring uncomfortable topics out in the open.

“What we’re doing is spreading the gospel of mental wellness,” said Rev. Mark Tiede, a member of the planning committee and an adult panel speaker.

The evening began with food from Mansetti’s, which was free to the public, and a resource fair offering a wide variety of support to those in the community.

Fair participants varied from counseling clinics to veteran services to, for the first time, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays).

“We want parents in our community to know that there is a support for them if they’re struggling,” said Rev. Margo Richardson, faith outreach and board member of the Anoka/North Metro PFLAG.

If you know someone struggling with mental illness you can help.
If it is an emergency:
• call 911
• go with them to the hospital
• stay with them until help arrives
If not:
• help them find resources for recovery
• help find them a mental health professional
• offer to go with them to their first appointment
For more information about Anoka County’s services for children’s mental health call 763-712-2722 or for adult services call 463-422-3283.
For 24-hour support call Twin Cities Crisis Services at 763-755-3801.

Dr. Dan Reidenberg, director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), was the keynote speaker.

“It’s important to understand the power of the faith component,” said Reidenberg.

“Martin Luther said that the church is an inn and infirmary for those who are not well.

“The faith component helps people look up instead of in.

“People with depression have many physical aches and pains.

“Depression takes away the ability to think correctly and causes pain. One risk factor of suicide is a lack of connectedness.

“Being connected to a faith community is actually a protected factor, or a help to not commit suicide.”

Youth perspective

The evening continued with a panel of four youth, who shared their experience with mental health issues.

They included Anna Loe, a student at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and Mason and Philip Beyers and Jade Owens, all three students at Coon Rapids High School.

Loe and Owens both struggled with mental health issues personally, while Mason and Philip Beyers are raised by a single mom who lives with mental illness.

While all four students had different experiences, they each agreed that social media plays a part in mental health.

Loe, who experienced bullying through texting during high school, said that for her, it was used as a weapon.

“I had broken up with a guy and I didn’t have any close relationships with girls at the time,” she said.

“The girls were catty, texting me to kill myself and that I didn’t deserve to live.”

She sent texts to others, expressing thoughts of suicide. Those were reported to her guidance counselor, who called Anna’s mother Barb.

Barb Loe quickly responded and got Anna into therapy and on medication. For Anna, the situation was difficult.

“Some days, I could barely go to school,” she said.

“It got awkward afterward; it made me have to get with new people and establish new relationships.

“It certainly defines who your real friends are, when you get in vulnerable situations.”

Anna is not ashamed of her feelings. “I’m not ashamed it happened,” she said.

“I got better and one of the girls apologized. Now I try to remember a bad situation is temporary. In the moment, you think nothing will get better, but it can.”

For her mom, Barb, the sharp edges of the situation have faded a little with time, but she knew she had to act.

“I am so grateful to the school for acting so quickly and to her boyfriend for reporting the texts to them,” she said.

According to Anna, kids need to be careful what they’re saying on Facebook.

“Often, they say things they would never say in person,” she said.

Most of the youth panel agreed that parents should know what their kids are saying on social media websites.

Philip Beyers said, “People have to realize that mental illness isn’t always going to be fixed. It’s not all black and white; there are different kinds.

“Mental illness needs to be accepted by society.”

The Beyers’ said church for them was a godsend.

“We have a very strong, supportive church and an awesome youth group we go to every Wednesday night during the school year.” Philip Beyers said.

He suggested people research mental illness and learn to help recognize it.

“Mental illness changes people’s lives,” Philip Beyers said.

Owens said people need to be aware and not be afraid to ask questions.

“Be the person they can go to – you can be that person of support,” she said.

The evening also highlighted an adult panel of professionals.

It included Jennifer Bassett, a therapist working at Anoka High School; Tiede; Anoka Police Chief Phil Johanson; Stephanie Johnston, a drug and alcohol counselor at Coon Rapids High School; and pastor and therapist Dan Munson, who founded Family Innovations counseling center.

All have worked with kids in various degrees of anxiety and depression.

One of the things that hinders kids from getting help, said Munson, is the fear of exposing oneself.

“A lot of kids and adults think they should be able to get through the depression by themselves,” he said.

“They’re ashamed that they’re not able to perform the way they should and they think they don’t matter.”

Bassett agreed. “What we do, if we get a referral, is follow up with the parents, make recommendations for outside resources and offer ongoing services until the children can get transitioned into therapy,” she said.

Johnston said she often sees kids with mental health issues because mental health and chemical health often go hand in hand.

“Kids who get depression or anxiety will sometimes treat it with alcohol or drugs,” she said.

“The problem we have sometimes is getting parents to understand it’s significant.

“It’s never just a little pot, just a little booze. It’s always a big deal.

“If we can get the kids help early, we have a much better success rate. Early intervention is the key.”

Johanson said he often sees kids when they’re not at their best.

“But we are always trying to find better ways of dealing with people who are in crisis,” he said.

“We’re not trying to add fuel to the fire.”

There has been an uptick in suicide attempts this past year, possibly due to economic stress, and people being over-stimulated, according to Johanson.

Church support 

Tiede said that churches are a great place to get support, especially when people feel free to talk about mental health issues.

“Often, some people think and fear that if they’re depressed it’s because God is punishing them,” he said.

“That’s not how God works. We are all broken.

“I don’t want anyone being told that they need more faith. That is absolutely false.”

The idea of talking about uncomfortable issues is catching on in other counties.

Ramsey County recently had its first “Let’s Talk About It” event.

To help parents and kids know how to help others, the Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County (MWCAC) has developed a flyer being handed out at the events and elsewhere specifically designed to address that issue.

“We want everyone in Anoka County to know how to help people who are struggling with mental illness,” said Lynette Sickler, chairperson of the MWCAC. ]

“If people know who to contact and when, people may have more hope, and more confidence that they can make a difference in a life of someone who’s struggling.”

After the first “Let’s Talk About It – Anoka County” took place at Anoka High School last fall, Principal Mike Farley said the one thing he heard from many of the students that attended was, “Please don’t let this be the end of the conversation.”

The next “Let’s Talk About It – Anoka County” event is May 14 at Centennial High School.