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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2018

Special Mass offers support for people with mental illness

By Chelsea Keenan, The Gazette | Oct 02, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS — In the quiet of a church, a group of people came together Sunday to pray — they prayed for those struggling with mental health issues, for those in the community providing medical and social services, for those whose mental illnesses have caused hospitalizations, and for those in need of help.

“As a culture we are not comfortable talking about depression and mental illness. Many people are embarrassed to admit that they struggle or this is seen as a character flaw,” said the Rev. Ivan Nienhaus, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids.

He was speaking at a special Mass on Sunday afternoon for those with chronic mental health struggles and their loved ones or caregivers.

“As a church, we need to verbalize mental illness — depression, bipolar disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia and other eating disorders. These are not things to be ashamed of. Rather, they are normal struggles in regards to the human condition,” he said.

Now in its 10th year, the Mass for Mental Illness Awareness provides a safe place for people to come and worship. More than 100 churchgoers — some from residential facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Manchester — offered hymns and prayers Sunday afternoon.

“For many of those dealing with mental health issues, they feel there is nowhere else to turn other than their faith,” said Steve Miller of Cedar Rapids. Since age 19, Miller has dealt with mental illness, including extreme anxiety and delusions. He was horribly sick for 17 years, he said, until better medication came out to treat him.

But now the writer and advocate has been in recovery for 17 years, and he constantly reminds people that mental health issues are incredibly common — 1 in 4 adults deal with them — and also very treatable.

Nienhaus’ homily spoke to that as well. He asked listeners to seek help when necessary from physicians or friends.

“Go to someone who knows us,” he said. “Go to them and ask them to be a light for you for a day, a week or a month.”

Representatives from the Cedar Rapids Police Department and behavioral health organizations also were in attendance Sunday. Sgt. Chris Bieber, who heads the department’s crisis intervention program, said it’s critical for his program to build relationships with mental health providers as well as trust with people who have a mental illness.

“We want them to feel safe coming to us,” he said.

The program works to break the all-too-common cycle of those with a mental health issue winding up in jail rather than getting treatment.

“We continue to believe the faith community is an important piece of that supportive puzzle,” said Emily Blomme, executive director of nonprofit that offers a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.

“Mental illness does not discriminate,” she said. “It doesn’t affect just those who are poor or a certain religion or a certain race.”

The annual Mass imitates one that Martha Hanley, an event organizer, and her son attended more than 12 years ago in Chicago. It was incredibly powerful, she said, so she brought the idea to her church, started a committee and gained community support over the past 10 years.

She had no idea whether people would attend, she said, or what the need looked like. But Hanley wanted people to know the church cares. The Mass is a way for people struggling with mental illness to feel safe and welcomed.

“Recovery is like a four-legged stool,” Hanley said. “There’s the medical aspect, the social services aspect, support from family and friends, and faith. If one of those legs is missing or not active, you can still recover, but it might take a bit longer.”

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