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‘You can have God and a therapist’: balancing mental health and faith

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TaMara Breeding-Goode was 16 the first time she attempted suicide. At the time, she said she didn’t have a strong relationship with God, despite being raised Baptist. She struggled alone for years with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After “being led” to Scott United Methodist Church a few years ago, Breeding-Goode found her calling.

There, she started Project WINGS, a mental health care service rooted in faith. However, Breeding-Goode said it’s OK if faith isn’t enough to help someone through a mental health crisis.

“You can have God and a therapist,” Breeding-Goode said. “People think because you’re a Christian, you’re not allowed to get depressed or allowed to struggle, it means you’re not praying enough. That’s not true. It doesn’t mean you have a lack of faith or that you’re possessed or that God doesn’t love you. It means you’re human.”

Breeding-Goode understands the stigma attached to mental illness. As a Black woman raised in a family that didn’t discuss mental health and as someone who grew up in church, Breeding-Goode empathizes with those ashamed of their struggle but said there are Biblical figures who went through the same trials.

“When Christ went to the garden, he was grieved to death,” Breeding-Goode said about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. “This was the Christ, OK? Elijah was so distressed he hid in the cave, and this was one of God’s prophets. People in the Bible mourned, rejoiced, gnashed their teeth. It’s important to know that you can rely on our God for healing and to go get professional help if you need it.”

And clergy, she said, may need help more than anyone. Pastors lead their congregants through the highs and lows of life, and that can take a toll. Breeding-Goode said clergy members taking time for their mental health shows “ultimate faith.”

Pastor Jeffrey Johnson has led Eastern Star Church for 33 years. He recently started a six-month sabbatical to focus on his physical, spiritual and mental health. Johnson doesn’t struggle with a diagnosable mental health condition but felt the stress that comes with the job.

Part of that stress, he said, comes with the unpredictability of the job. From officiating weddings to leading services at funerals, pastoring comes with a lot of highs and lows.

“This goes on every day,” Johnson said. “It’s an emotional roller coaster and anybody, whether it’s a pastor or educator or doctor, anyone that doesn’t get the rest that is necessary, then they’re gonna have some challenges.”

To address mental health challenges specific to the clergy, Breeding-Goode and Project WINGS will host the town hall at 7 p.m. July 8, “Combating the Stigma While Embracing the Call.” Open to the community, both in-person and on Zoom, Breeding-Goode hopes the conversation provides support and solutions.

“We saw clergy that were suffering, so we knew there was a need to address it,” Breeding-Goode said. “People gotta be supported period, regardless of their title. God calls us to help in everybody’s healing, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

“Combating the Stigma While Embracing the Call”

Project WINGS will host the town hall, “Combating the Stigma While Embracing the Call,” at 7 p.m. July 8. For more information, contact Scott United Methodist Church at 317-925-1997.

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