GREENFIELD — Teddy Hamilton was a woman of faith.
Sunday mornings, she was a regular in worship at Brandywine Community Church. Over the years, she mentored other church members, helping them through hard times.
Her own pain, though, she suffered silently. Her fellow parishioners were overcome when Hamilton died in July. Their grief was compounded as word spread she’d died by her own hand.
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Her suicide, the loss of this woman who’d stood alongside them for so many years, led Brandywine members to launch a mental health outreach program in hopes of saving people like Hamilton.
Construction has begun on a mental health community resource center to be housed inside the church at 1551 E. New Road. Organizers envision having a board of directors, peer counselors, support groups and referrals to area psychiatrists or counseling services.
Two rooms are being built in the existing church building with the option of building a free-standing center on the 40-acre church campus in the future. Officials hope to launch the new center in May and still are working out staffing and operations details.
Hamilton’s loss shone a light on a need right among them; many who mourned her wondered what more could have been done.
“We were already in the process of starting another ministry, but this really woke people up to the need in our own community,” said the church’s counseling director Gina Colclazier.
Last year, leaders of the 1,400-member church applied for a community ministry grant from the Indianapolis-based Center for Congregations, an organization that aims to help Indiana churches address their parishioners’ needs. Before Hamilton’s death, they had written the grant proposal with a focus on helping families affected by substance abuse, Colclazier said.
Hamilton’s passing felt like a sign to redirect those efforts, the Rev. Mark Wright said.
“It hit close to home,” Wright said.
He cited the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which estimates one out of five people faces mental illness.
“… And most of us know somebody that’s struggling,” he said.
After reflection, research and prayer, the leadership team decided to redirect its attention to providing mental health resources to the community, Colclazier said. They wanted to help people like Hamilton, to give them somewhere to turn when times grew darkest.
They contacted the Center for Congregations and asked to resubmit their application. They received $30,000 for the fledgling program, and in December, Wright challenged parishioners to match the amount. They did that and then some, contributing nearly $70,000.
Those who seek help at the mental health center don’t have to be believers, but it make sense for the church to take the lead in providing mental health resources, Wright said.
“One of the first places people reach out to is the church, and we’re saying, ‘We want to be ready,’” he said.
The aim of the developing program is to provide a holistic approach to mental illness and recovery, Colclazier said. She wants to help those who reach out with their emotional distress and its underlying causes alike, whether financial instability, an addiction or another reason, she said.
Resource coaches will be trained to walk people through the process of getting whatever help they need, from applying for state financial aid to finding a nearby psychiatrist or counselor, she said.
The church has several counselors already through its Celebrate Recovery program and is training more for the new center, but theyare mostly unlicensed peer counselors, so Colclazier is developing partnerships with providers in the community in order to be able to refer prospective patients to licensed counselors or psychiatrists who can prescribe medication for those who need it. She hopes to partner with area hospitals as well, she said.
In the last several months, parishioners interested in being a part of the program have attended two national seminars focused on training churches to provide aid to the people in their communities, Colclazier said. Some 30 peers attended mental health first aid training, a national program to teach the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance use.
Colclazier is in the process of kicking off a pilot program for the peer-led support groups. With a decade of hosting Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based recovery program for those struggling with addiction, anger or other “hang-ups,” Colclazier said she knows those with addiction often also struggle with mental illness.
“We want this to be a place for people to come when they’re hurting,” she said. “It can be daunting to work the system. We want to help alleviate some of that burden and walk alongside people.”
The mental health program will offer several types of peer-led support groups, including one for teens up to age 25, one for family members of people with mental illnesses, and one for adults struggling with mental illness, Colclazier said. The support groups will be both faith- and evidenced-based, pulling from best practices that have shown to have the best results, Colclazier said.
Laura Baker, a parishioner who also works for Healthy Families, an organization that provides early childhood education and family support, will lead one of the support groups, she said.
Many parishioners have a heart for people who struggle with mental illness, addiction or other issues, she said.
“Most of us came to Brandywine because we were struggling,” she said.
That’s reflected in the number of people stepping up to help or to be a part of the groups once they’re created, she said.
The church has hired a consultant to help guide the process of setting up the center, including developing the board of directors, she said.
It might seem like the church is moving quickly with the new program, but Colclazier said urgency is important when it comes to being able to provide mental health resources.
“Many individuals in crisis will contact the church for help, even if they don’t go to church,” she said. “If they can’t find help, they often only reach out once. We want to be ready.”