Lake County mental illness advocates prepare churches for first response
Jeff Forman/JForman@News-Herald.com Carole Jazbec, left, and Darci Capp, NAMI executive director and director of programs, respectively, prepare taper candles for the Oct. 7 NAMI National Day of Prayer. By Janet Podolak, The News-Herald POSTED: 09/28/14, 1:53 PM EDT
Carole Jazbec is among those countless people whose lives have been dramatically affected by a relative with mental illness. Now she’s the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Lake County. And many of those leading its varied programs have, like Jazbec, been there.
In the belief that pastors are the first responders when a catastrophic illness or event strikes a family, friend or neighbor, NAMI is reaching out to area churches to help educate and inform them about the signs of mental illness and the resources available to help. The initiative, Faith Net’s Bridges of Hope, will be presented to the community on Oct. 7, the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding.
Like many, Jazbec and her family felt helpless when her brother John was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1972. “He was disoriented. He said Jesus was appearing to him. He spoke incoherently,” she recalled. Overnight, it seemed the brother she knew and loved had become a different person.
“He was frustrated when I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. It all made sense to him,” she said. She attributed his behavior to smoking pot or using LSD.
“At first I believed that maybe Our Lord was appearing to him,” she recalled “But that was my hoping against hope.” In 1982 her brother’s psychiatrist referred Jazbec and her sister to a NAMI gathering in southwest Pennsylvania. There in a hotel ballroom the sisters met hundreds of other family members of those with mental illness. “We knew we weren’t alone,” she said. They got information about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
“That weekend changed us and equipped us to better understand our beloved brother, John, and to be the best support for him we could be,” she said.
One of the first things she learned that long ago day was how difficult it was for someone with schizophrenia to try to listen to someone while having auditory hallucinations.
“Since then, I’ve learned that living well with mental illness is possible and I’ve gained incredible respect for people struggling with severe mental illness and their family members,” she said.
“I’ve learned that education is key to acceptance and living well with mental illness in one’s life.” Jazbec told her story to the Willoughby Area Ministerial Association, which had been inspired by the first gathering on mental health and the Church led last March by Rick Warren, pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, and his wife, Kay.
After the Warrens lost their beloved son to suicide, they partnered with NAMI Orange County and the Catholic Diocese of Orange County to host a daylong event in southern California.
It drew more than 3,000 people and received national and international coverage. Learn more mentalhealthandthechurch.com.
Now the local NAMI is seeking to create stronger safety nets among those in the church community. For more information, visit www.nami.org/faithnet.
“Church leaders need to become more aware about why people sometimes act the way they do,” he said. He’s pioneered a three-times-a-month distribution of items that can’t be purchased with food stamps. It takes place at the McKinley Outreach Center, developed from a former school at 1200 Lost Nation Road and location for the upcoming awareness initiative. Some of the people he sees at that distribution are obviously suffering from depression, he said. ”People are complex, and we try to be gentle with them and make them aware of the resources out there,” he said. He can sometimes recognize those with mental health problems from physical signs, he said. “Often they’re people that appear to have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” he said. “But when they look at you they just don’t connect.”
The local NAMI effort grew from a support group formed 10 years ago by the Rev. Thomas Johns, pastor at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Mentor. He’d put out a call to his congregation asking someone to lead a faith-based support group for family members of those with mental health issues.
“Father Johns lovingly handed that support group to NAMI in 2006 and this family group is still held there,” said Jazbec. “As pastors we need to learn what we can and what we can’t do,” Johns said. “Support groups are a good way for people to help each other, but there’s a point where professional help is needed.”
The Rev. Greg DiMeolo, pastor for the last 30 years at Christ Community Church in Willoughby, believes NAMI is one of the best-kept secrets in Lake County. He looks forward to helping families impacted by mental illness learn about its many programs, all of which are free.
Many area pastors will speak about mental illness from their pulpits on Oct. 4 and encourage their flocks to attend the Oct. 7 awareness event and day of prayer.
Meanwhile, Jazbec and her staff are gathering candles that will be lit after the 7 to 9 p.m. program for a candlelight vigil and prayer service. They’ll also distribute shells and stones to those attending so they can take them home and be reminded about the struggles of friends and family members with mental illness.
National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery & Understanding 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 7 McKinley Community Outreach Center, 1200 Lost Nation Road, Willoughby Presenters Rae Grady, Melina Bennett and Christi Farmer will speak.
Candlelight vigil and prayer service Refreshments will be served so NAMI asks for RSVPs at 440-639-1200
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