Community education series in Anoka on mental illness

While attitudes are slowly changing, there is still much work to be done when it comes to eliminating the stigmas attached to mental illness.

One local church is hoping to do its part by hosting a five-part community education series “Navigating the Landscape of Mental Illness.”

First Congregational UCC of Anoka has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota, kicking off the series with the session “Mental Health 101” on Wednesday, March 12.

Three more sessions will follow on March 19 and 21 and April 2 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

While hosted by the church, the information sessions are not faith-based, and everyone is welcome to attend.

Leanne Patchen, a member of Anoka UCC’s health ministry team, would like to see people be comfortable to talk about mental illness the same way they would about any other sickness.

“Nobody is afraid to tell someone about their heart problems, but they won’t talk about their depression,” said Patchen, who is also a member of NAMI’s Anoka County chapter as well as the Mental Wellness Campaign for Anoka County.

The only way to change that is to work on getting rid of the stigma that some people believe mental illnesses are not real, treatable health conditions.

She said it’s UCC’s mission to give help to anyone who feels they are suffering an injustice.

Faith community nurse Denna Rasmussen sees this kind of education as a good fit with providing support for the congregation and the community.

“We need more awareness in the community so people feel comfortable talking about mental illness,” said Rasmussen, a registered nurse.

As part of the UCC Faith Community Nurse Network, Rasmussen sees her role to support the physical, spiritual and emotional health of the community.

Providing education and awareness about an illness that affects many people, but is not often talked about publicly, is a way to do that.

Patchen said the local church, which is one of few open and affirming congregations in the north metro, is not afraid to tackle hot topics.

“We talk about them, and then we do something about them,” she said.

According to NAMI, mental illnesses are medical conditions that affect a person’s daily functioning, including thinking, feeling and mood. This can result in diminished capacity for coping with the regular demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses can include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Mental illness recovery is possible through an individual treatment plan that can include cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, as well as medication. According to NAMI, between 70 and 90 percent of people receiving treatment have a significant reduction of symptoms.

Early detection is important.

NAMI reports about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans, suffers from a serious mental illness, although it is estimated mental illness affects 1 in 5 families.

NAMI Minnesota Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator Matt Burdick said that while the series is not religious, informing faith communities is important because that is often the first place people turn to for help and answers.

“I think that there will be something for everyone to take away from this series, whether you know a little or a lot about mental illness,” Burdick said.

NAMI’s efforts are focused on education, advocacy and support for mental illness.

The organization provides education opportunities in the area on a regular basis, including a monthly “Hope for Recovery Workshop” at the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center.

“We’re here to help people understand the resources that are available and help break down the stigmas that surround mental illness,” Burdick said.

NAMI is providing experts to speak at each information session.

On March 19, Donna Fox will deliver a program new to NAMI – QPR – which teaches people how to respond in an emergency when someone could be suicidal. When people learn to question, persuade and refer someone having a mental health crisis, the right emergency response can be lifesaving.

The March 26 session “Insights: Confronting the Stigma of Mental Illness” teaches people about why it is important to rethink how you talk and think about people living with mental illness.

Burdick said this will include short testimony from two volunteers who have personal experience with mental illness.

April 2 will feature “In Our Own Voice,” which Burdick said is a powerful public education program where people share their stories about living with a mental illness and recovery.

“This is our most effective program,” Burdick said.

The education session will wrap up April 9 with a focus on legislative updates and actions, including a discussion of what can be done to advocate in the community and at the Legislature.

This is not First Congregational Church’s first time advocating and educating on the stigmas that surround mental illness.

The church has hosted events including “Let’s Talk about it” as well as a presentation as part of the “Make it OK,” campaign.

On Friday, April 11, the church will also host Youth Mental Health First Aid, a program introducing participants to the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents and builds understanding of the importance of early intervention. It also teaches people how they can help a young person experiencing a mental health crisis. The all-day course is taught by a NAMI Minnesota instructor.

First Congregational UCC of Anoka is located at 1923 Third Ave. S in downtown Anoka. For more on the series call 763-421-3375. For more information and additional resources on mental illness, visit

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]