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Thu, Dec. 12

Column: When faith intersects with mental health

When this Counselor’s Column started, the intent was to focus on the role of religion and spirituality for those suffering with mental illness. The plan was to review studies demonstrating that connections with faith communities provide an extra layer of resilience and support. And, then the idea was to drill down into research such as a 2012 Pew Survey and explore the significant rise in the rate of religiously unaffiliated persons in the United States. That was going to be the focus.

However, after talking with two devoted, local spiritual leaders, this column concept shifted. It shifted to become a focus on them. A time to shine the spotlight on just two of many faith leaders in the Prescott area who champion the need for compassion and understanding related to mental health and addiction.

When Lloyd Ewart began his work as an ordained minister in the 1950s, he recalls that there was little awareness about mental illness and few effective medications. Throughout his multi-decade career of service, he has seen a change. “It’s not just swept under the rug now,” Rev. Ewart said. “There is a great deal of counseling involved in pastoral work. But sometimes things get to a point that counseling isn’t enough.”

Ewart reflected back to an early parish he led, where there were no community facilities combined with no awareness when it came to mental health issues. “Things have changed a great deal from when I first started.” And, this change locally is due in part to the work of faith leaders like Ewart who stepped forward when they observed inequities and gaps in care.

Ewart was a pioneer in the local Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s Chaplain Program, and he was on the volunteer Board of Directors of West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and the WYGC Foundation Board for many years. Ministering to the sick and to the broken are part of what brought Ewart into the field and what kept him serving communities like Prescott for decades.

“The Methodist Church puts an emphasis on mental health and addiction,” he said. “Everyone needs to know that they are loved, that they are valuable people and that there are people there to help.”

Another faith leader in service for others is Deacon Kimball Arnold, known by many for her compassionate leadership of a local Grief Group. In this supportive environment, those with similar losses find that they can move successfully through desolation.

“I can see them coming from the dark into the light,” Arnold said.

But Arnold’s commitment to those in pain is not limited to the support group; rather, she also shares her spiritual perspectives within the addiction treatment community. There, her focus is on acceptance and compassion, helping the persons in new recovery heal and rebuild their lives.

As a Deacon with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, she has dedicated herself to the service of others. That is reflected in her work with those experiencing grief, or those experiencing mental and physical health challenges. It is also reflected in a very tangible way when people seeking solace enter the chapel of YRMC’s East Campus. The sign overhead reads “The Arnold Chapel.” Deacon Kimball’s presence is a comforting one and listening is one of her strengths; but she doesn’t mince words when reflecting on the continuing need to strive toward understanding, even within faith communities. She believes there is still much to be done for full acceptance of those struggling with mental illness.

“Ignorance promotes fear. Education is the key. Each person should be treated with dignity and respect,” Arnold said. “Everyone should be treated the same.”

Since faith is about believing in a God one cannot see, there are many suffering with mental health and addiction that find it difficult to maintain faith in the face of monumental challenges. The Ewarts and Arnolds of the world make it possible for those who struggle to see beyond the moment and know that healing can be achieved.

For information on the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, go to www.wygc.org.

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