Shifting Gears Of Thought: Peace of Mind Conference aims to arm church leaders in fight against mental illness

Article by Rebecca Hoeffner Graphic by Derek Kuhn/Staff Graphic

An upcoming conference will focus on the intersection of mental illness and faith, and will feature Kay Warren, wife of megachurch pastor Rick Warren.

The Peace of Mind Conference: Standing Together For Mental Health, is designed to encourage and give hope to families and individuals, and teach church leaders how to handle someone who comes to them with the issues, said Doug McSwane, one of the event's organizers. The free conference will be held from 8:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Green Acres CrossWalk Conference Center. Lunch will be provided, but attendees must pre-register at

"About 70 percent of the mentally ill go to a faith leader first," McSwane said. "They think it's a spiritual problem. They are told ‘You just need to have more faith. But you wouldn't tell a diabetic not to take his medicine."

But that idea is changing; many churches have agreed to help and participate, McSwane said.

Studies show about one in four people will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives.

"Tyler's population just passed 100,000," McSwane said. "So that's 25,000 who will have some kind of mental illness. If you add in family members who are affected, that's 50,000. Why wouldn't we address a problem that impacts half of our community?"

McSwane's own son developed and struggled with schizophrenia for nine years before committing suicide in 2012.

"Most families go insular, like we did," he said. "We didn't tell anybody; we didn't have a social life. There's a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding, and a lot of people suffer in silence because they're afraid to tell anybody."

Many people are afraid of the mentally ill, McSwane said, because of a basic lack of understanding.

"First, mental disorders are neither necessary, nor sufficient causes of violence," according to a study from the National Institute of Health. "The major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and socio-economic factors such as being young, male, and of lower socio-economic status."

Second, members of the public undoubtedly exaggerate both the strength of the relationship between major mental disorders and violence, as well as their own personal risk from the severely mentally ill. It is far more likely that people with a serious mental illness will be the victim of violence.

Third, substance abuse appears to be a major determinant of violence and this is true whether it occurs in the context of a concurrent mental illness or not."

The event's main speaker, Mrs. Warren, made headlines in April of 2013 when her son committed suicide after struggling with a mental illness. He was 27.

The Warrens facilitated a conference on mental health in their California church in March, and the other speakers to attend the Tyler conference were drawn from there, McSwane said.

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission. She also serves as editor of Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership, Senior Editor of Leadership Journal, a speaker, and a Co-Active personal and professional coach.

Dr. Matthew Stanford is a professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies at Baylor University. His research focuses on the interplay between psychology and issues of faith. As the co-founder and executive director of the Grace Alliance, he writes, conducts training seminars, and serves individuals living with mental illness and their families. He is the author of two books, Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness and The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope and Healing for Those Who Feel Trapped.

Dr. Dan Morehead will discuss the brain and mental illness. He has been a highly esteemed psychiatrist in Austin since 2001.

"While Dr. Morehead is very knowledgeable in the fields of psychiatry and neurology, he is also an astute theologian," according to the event's website. "He is a gifted presenter and has a profound ability to take information that is difficult for non-medical professionals and present it in a very understandable format."

Former Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass will also be serving as the emcee for conference.

The City of Tyler has co-sponsored the event, as well as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Trinity Mother Frances, The Andrew's Center and the Samaritan Counseling Center of Tyler.

"We want to send a message of hope and say that you don't have to be afraid to say ‘I have a mental illness and I need help," McSwane said. "Tyler is such a caring society, and I think once we become aware of the problem, we'll see ministries surface and donations provided."



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