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Is church the place people turn to when they are struggling with mental health issues? Or is it yet another place where silence and stigma prevent individuals from getting the support they need? Through a public series that focused on depression, anxiety, and suicide, one Toronto-area church wanted to let members and neighbors know that they are a church that wants to talk about and offer support for people affected by mental illness.

On February 16th and 23rd, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Etobicoke, Ont., hosted two evenings with presentations led by June Zwier, director of mental health resources at Shalem Mental Health Network. The first evening addressed depression and anxiety; the second evening focused on the Four S’s: Silence, Stigma, Suicide, and Support. The Thursday evening presentations were followed by a time of discussion and sharing. “We wanted to find a way to serve our neighbors, be the church where you can go for help,” said Hank Kuntz, member of Fellowship CRC and part of the small group that initiated this series.

The seed was first planted when the idea of hosting a public presentation on mental health was discussed by the church’s disability concerns committee. As the congregation is now exploring new outreach programs, Kuntz’s small group wanted to find a way they could meet people where they hurt.

They contacted Shalem Mental Health Network and started planning. They advertised the event in different ways: on the church sign, through the Coffeebreak program, and at nearby churches. Invitations were also handed out at the local food bank.

“It had great reception from the neighborhood. There were many people from the community, and the series met, if not exceeded, our expectations,” Kuntz reported.

In reaching out to serve, this church created space to talk. In the discussion periods, a few attendees spoke about their own experiences. They learned together and created a safe place to share. They look forward to planning more public events in the future.

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