Seminar will focus on living with mental illness

To help counter the stigma of mental illness and address the effects on families where it is present, Vashon Youth & Family Services and Vashon Presbyterian Church are partnering to offer an event, Ending the Silence, this Saturday .

A speaker from Seattle NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) will deliver the keynote address, which will also include talks by a young adult living with mental illness and a family member telling their stories about the challenges they face. Additionally, the event will include a workshop on suicide prevention, support for families dealing with mental illness and time with the speakers from NAMI for those who would like to talk with them further.

“We are really hoping this will open the door to a community conversation about mental illness, much like the forums on dying well did,” said Leigh Weber, the pastor of the Presbyterian church.

Weber, who has served at the Presbyterian church for about two years, said it was her idea to hold Saturday’s event, based on experiences in her pastoral work. When people are faced with a serious illness, including breast, prostate or ovarian cancer, many speak openly about what they are facing, even though those parts of the body are frequently considered private, she said. But when faced with illnesses linked to brain chemistry, such as depression or anxiety, many people are reluctant to talk about it or seek help from mental health professionals.

This event is meant to work to change that and, ideally, to offer support to families in an ongoing way — and make meaningful change.

“My dream is that Vashon would be on the forefront of erasing the stigma around mental health,” Weber said.

Weber noted that the church provides space for a monthly support group for those caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. She would like to see it provide space for people caring for family members with mental illness as well.

“It is a lonely thing to have a family member struggle with mental illness,” she added.

Although co-hosted by a church, Saturday’s event will be secular.

“It will be no different than if we had a forum on heart disease,” Weber said.

Weber said the church’s partnership with VYFS is a natural one, with the social service agency providing expertise and the church providing the space.

“We both care about the whole community, and together, we can play to one another’s strengths,” she said.

The suggested donation is $10 per person, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Presbyterian church, 17708 Vashon Hwy SW. RSVPs are requested to help with planning for lunch. Contact Weber at 425- 221-1142 or pastorleigh@comcast.net.

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