Mental wellness focus of annual spring faith forum

Helping the mentally ill was the focus of the Compassion Action Network’s spring faith forum held April 25.

ttendees check out the resource tables at the faith forum.Photo by Kelly Johnson

ttendees check out the resource tables at the faith forum.Photo by Kelly Johnson

Discussion focused on how mental wellness impacts the community and what is happening in Anoka County to promote positive mental wellness and how non-profit organizations, government agencies and faith communities can be part of the solution.

Featured speaker was Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart, who described his life growing up as dysfunctional.

“I grew up in chaos,” he said.

Stuart said that during his childhood, he witnessed depression, anxiety, alcoholism and addiction.

“I learned quickly how to avoid setting people off,” he said.

But in watching his parents overcome their mental illnesses, “I learned that recovery is possible,” Stuart said.

He acknowledges that it would have been easy for him to fall into the lifestyle all around him, but Stuart credits outreach and intervention efforts with keeping him on a different path.

“I recognized that I needed to be the change I wanted to see in my life,” Stuart said.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to change someone’s life.”

For Stuart, that effort came from an off-duty police officer working security at a family wedding. Talking with the officer and interacting with him changed Stuart’s life and set him on the path toward a career in law enforcement.

“I’m a living example of change and breaking those generational chains,” he said.

Stuart said they see the effects of mental illness in every division of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

Inmates in the jail, who are provided with mental health treatment while incarcerated, once released often have difficulty finding access to treatment and prescriptions once they are released from jail.

“They are not always able to get their medications or treatment,” Stuart said.

Jails are not hospitals, according to Stuart.

“We do not have the ability to provide long-term, ongoing treatment,” Stuart said.

Deputies are often called to respond to crimes and other incidents whose underlying cause can be traced to mental illness, he said.

“It’s happening regularly and all around us,” Stuart said. “These changing times truly bring changing challenges.”

Despite these challenges, “we have the ability to make a difference,” he said.

“Collectively, we can’t back down. There’s too much at risk,” Stuart said. “The world needs everyone to care.”

“Are you willing to be the change that is needed. Working together, we can make a difference.”

Similar sentiments were echoed during a panel discussion that included women who are dealing with mental illness, including depression, and a church pastor who helped organize a series of events to highlight mental wellness.

The panelists agreed that one of the biggest barriers to getting treatment for mental illness is the stigma associated with the diagnosis. While acceptance has grown in recent years, the stigma still remains.

That stigma often leads to fear at diagnosis and a lack of education about the resources available to help those with mental illness as well as their loved ones.

The faith forum took place at Rasmussen College in Blaine.

The Compassion Action Network’s mission in Anoka County is “to mobilize community organizations to recognize the value and benefits of working together, because when everyone brings something, there is more than enough.”

Faith forums take place twice a year, typically in the spring and fall.

For more information about the Compassion Action Network, visit www.compassionnet-mn.com.

Kelly Johnson is at kelly.johnson@ecm-inc.com

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