Experts: Relationships are vital to children with mental illnesses

Experts: Relationships are vital to children with mental illnesses

Rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of participants at the "Mental Health Matters" conference held April 19 at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tenn. The gathering was one of four workshops held in four regions of Holston Conference during the “Week of the Young Child” and was sponsored by the Holston Conference Health Care Task Force.

John Paul Abner, a licensed psychologist and keynote speaker, addressed the rise in childhood depression, anxiety, and autism.

“We need to be aware of alarming research statistics. One in five children in America has a mental health problem,” he said.

Abner pointed out that only one in 10 of children with mental illness receive the services they need. Responsibility falls on every congregation and individual to understand why mental health issues exist and to provide the appropriate responses. Data does not begin to address the stress on families facing social stigma and a lack of support, he said.

“The United Methodist Church has heard the whisper of the anguished pleas for help and understanding,” said Paula Postai, a Health Care Task Force member.

“We want to learn how churches can be more hospitable to the community in these matters,” said the Rev. Joe-d DowlingSoka, task force chair and senior pastor at First Bristol UMC.

When asked how church members can better respond to children’s mental health issues in the community, Abner suggested:

  • When in doubt, refer.
  • Increase your knowledge.
  • Keep your eyes open.
  • Erase the stigma.
  • Advocate for children’s mental health.

Another keynote speaker, clinical psychologist Michele Moser, answered questions on disruptive behaviors. She reminded participants that needs for mental health care are great but accessing services are poor in most areas, including the Tri-Cities area.

Churches and families can offer relationships, one of the most important needs for children with mental health issues, experts said. Abner said we cannot underestimate the value of these relationships in treating mental health problems.

“It hurt our communities when we stopped building front porches and let the T.V. keep our kids from playing outside," he said. Abner challenged participants to review their roles in helping children and families with mental illnesses receive support and acceptance in the church family.

Mental health representatives were also on hand to provide local resources and answer questions.

Linda Compton is a member at Hiltons Memorial UMC in Big Stone Gap District.