‘See the individual first’ – Davenport parish creates mental health ministry

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — When Lindsay Peiffer sat in church, she felt isolated and alone because she suffered from anxiety. She felt people did not understand her. She didn’t want people to think poorly of her or to assume that she was not capable of doing things. Over time, she felt welcomed and accepted.

A member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Peiffer said that with the help of her doctor, she found the right medication to treat her anxiety. She wanted to offer support and prayer for others with mental illness of any kind, including anxiety.

She bounced the idea off friends who suggested she talk with the parish staff about forming a group. Peiffer talked with staffers Michelle Herrington and Tasha Havercamp who helped her to form a mental health ministry at the parish, which then-pastor Father Tony Herold approved.

Religious Supply

The St. Paul Mental Health Ministry began this past winter. A branch of the ministry, Family and Friends, supports people who have a family member or friend with mental illness.

Currently the main ministry engages in prayer and has resource information for individuals with mental illness. While the ministry does not have licensed therapists or group sessions, Peiffer hopes to offer meetings at which mental health providers speak on various topics.

Erin Darland, one of the organizers of the family and friends ministry, got involved because she knows people with mental health illnesses and wanted to learn how to help others and herself. “Their issues affect you and others as well. Not just the person with mental illness,” she said. “We offer an opportunity for faith, fellowship and support for those who care for a loved one that suffers in this way.”

Two meetings for the family and friends ministry took place before the coronavirus pandemic. “We had to put it on the back burner for now, but we hope to be able to start again this fall when guidelines allow,” Darland said. Organizers also are looking at other alternatives to meet if restrictions continue beyond fall.

Darland said she attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting, which gave a good base to begin the St. Paul group. One bonus: the parish-based ministry can bring God and prayer into the meetings. “We give the opportunity to pray for loved ones and by name,” Darland said.

The group’s guidelines include starting and stopping on time, limiting time for opening stories, maintaining confidentiality, respectfulness, and consideration of others. Talks must remain in the here and now, and participants empathize with each other’s situations.

Darland says the group’s principles of support see the individual first, not the illness, recognize that mental illnesses are medical illnesses that may have environmental triggers, and understand that mental illnesses are traumatic events. Also, the principles aim for better coping skills, strength in sharing experiences, rejection of stigma and discrimination, and to not judge anyone else’s pain as less than one’s own. Participants receive encouragement to forgive themselves, reject guilt, embrace humor and accept that some problems will not be solved. They are encouraged to expect a better future in a realistic way and to never give up hope.

The mental health ministry also recites a Divine Mercy Chaplet for people living with mental health issues and those who care for them.

Contact information

Members of the Mental Health Ministry at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport include Peiffer, Darland, Tory Dohrn, Nicky Gant, Amy Jackson, Jean Jackson and Amy Tallman.

For more information on the St. Paul Mental Health Ministry or to submit a confidential prayer request, contact Peiffer at stpmhmprayers@gmail.com. The contacts for family and friends ministry are Dohrn at (563) 359-5575, Jean Jackson at (563) 320-1938 or Darland at (563) 508-2808.


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