January 16, 2009

Programs will address suicide, mental illness

By Mary Ann Wyand

Suicide and mental illness are difficult to talk about and even harder to cope with, Marilyn Hess explained, so the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries is co-sponsoring educational programs on those topics for bereavement ministers and family members in early February.

As associate director of family ministries, Hess assists pastoral ministers, other caregivers and individuals with resources for grief ministry.

“People don’t know what to say or do in cases of suicide,” Hess said. “It is shocking and often unexpected. Sometimes the family didn’t have any clues that there was a problem. In addition to being unexpected, there are a lot of negative feelings like guilt experienced by survivors who wish that somehow they could have prevented the tragedy.”

In society, “there’s still a stigma related to mental illness,” she said. “It’s important for people to know how to support those who are struggling with mental illness.”

• On Feb. 3, Tom and Fran Smith of Belleville, Ill., will present an educational program about “Breaking the Silence of Mental Illness in Parishes and Religious Congregations” from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m. at SS. Francis and Clare Parish, 5901 Olive Branch Road, in Greenwood.

The program is intended for people who are challenged by their own mental health problems as well as the mental health issues of family members or friends.

The Smiths’ daughter, Karla, struggled with bipolar disorder for seven years, which led to her suicide at age 26.

They founded the Karla Smith Foundation after her death to provide support groups, peer-to-peer coaching, education programs and awareness events for families devastated by mental illness.

Tom Smith is the retired director of pastoral services for the Diocese of Belleville.

• On Feb. 4, the Smiths will present the keynote address for the seventh annual Mission Day for caregivers of the bereaved, a one-day seminar from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, 5353 E. 56th St., in Indianapolis. The registration fee of $25 is due by Jan. 30.

They will discuss “Suicide Grief: A Day for Persons Caring for Family Members and Loved Ones Challenged by Mental Illness and the Experience of Suicide.”

Their topics include facts, myths, statistics, warning signs and spirituality.

(To register for the Feb. 3 program, call SS. Francis and Clare Parish at 317-859-4673. To register for the Feb. 4 seminar, call Our Lady of Peace Cemetery at 317-574-8898 or log on to www.archindy.org/family/bereavement.html.)

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