AHA News: This nonprofit creates a strong ‘playing field’ for community mental health – Consumer Health News



MONDAY, Dec.6, 2021 (American Heart Association News) – When personal effects pile up on the sidewalk following an eviction in Anne Arundel County, western Maryland, Abraham Shanklin Jr. sees more than ‘a housing crisis. When low-income people can’t find a reliable way to get to work, he sees beyond transportation issues.

Since 1994, when he became pastor there, Shanklin has traced the roots of a common struggle.

“The common thread running through all of this is mental health,” he said. “In other words, if your mind is not good, your life is not good.”

In 2014, Shanklin created a faith-based non-profit organization to address this challenge. The Center of Transformation in Hanover, Maryland, offers health, education and employment programs for families in need, regardless of their religious affiliation.

During the pandemic, the center and its community partners were ready when depression, anxiety and other psychological afflictions became even more prevalent. Today, they are piloting a mental health coaching program, with a two-year goal of increasing access to evidence-based public health programs by 70%.

“When some churches in our area closed for good during the pandemic, that’s when it hit me: I’m so glad we have grown in size to be able to deal with this crisis that has hit our door. “said Shanklin, 56, who recently completed her doctorate in clinical Christian counseling.

The Center of Transformation serves a multicultural community in western Anne Arundel County, south of Baltimore. Known for its spectacular views of Chesapeake Bay, the average household income in the county is over $ 100,000. But its western part is largely landlocked, with lower incomes, sparse public transport, and scarce affordable housing.

It is also heavily influenced by the United States Army, with the United States Naval Academy and Army Fort George C. Meade nearby.

Shanklin’s friend H. Duante Duckett is an Air Force veteran and pastor of the New Kingdom Faith Christian Church near Glen Burnie. “A lot of us in this kind of community service are ex-military, veterans who know the only way to win a war is to have a good game on the ground,” Duckett said. “When a person has mental health issues you have to have that playing field to make sure they get the resources they need. It’s going to cost a lot of human resources to make sure that mental health is done properly. is it necessary.”

Shanklin also served in the Air Force when he moved to the area in 1987. Six years later he majored in healthcare information technology, but “then, I felt a call to become more involved in the community and to be guided by faith ”.

He believed that the call to be a pastor also meant that God would provide for anyone who came forward in need.

Its church members formed a mental health ministry that has evolved into an advisory service that is now part of the Transformation Center. Before the pandemic, the center moved to a new building, which then became the headquarters to distribute food to 1,400 families and provide COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.

Shanklin and his team were inspired by the Bible verse Romans 12: 2. “Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

“We want people to be the best version of themselves,” Shanklin said. “How can we be a place to help people be their best? By offering relevant solutions and creative ideas through a holistic approach. “

This groundwork is necessary because the pockets of western Anne Arundel County are considered mental health deserts due to its lack of mental health care providers, a designation that the Federal Resource Administration and health services calls an area of ​​shortage of mental health professionals. One pocket is the community of Pioneer City, where 9 in 10 residents are black, Hispanic or other colored people, Shanklin said.

This problem is compounded by cultural and structural barriers known as the social determinants of health.

“African Americans experience multiple forms of traumatic stressors such as heavy police forces and visible and verbal attacks, as well as generational issues that are passed on,” Shanklin said. “And as a pastor, I saw with my own eyes the impact of these stressors. A young woman in our congregation who did not have access to the right mental health resources was heading straight for a bridge. was probably one of the scariest intervention times of my life.

“Mental illness in the black community has long been a sensitive topic – the prevailing belief is that you don’t take therapy, you don’t take counseling, you don’t take medication. Fix it. You don’t tell people about your business. Basically you put on your big pants and keep moving. “

But the work of the center is helping to change that. In one year, the number of families who received mental health services from the center increased from 30 to 100. They showed up, Shanklin said, after the community decided to “raise awareness of the use of a stigmatizing language around mental illness, to educate family and friends and colleagues about the unique challenges of mental illness within the black community and to become aware of our own attitudes and beliefs towards the black community in order to reduce implicit biases and negative assumptions. “

The Center of Transformation received support this year from the American Heart Association’s EmPowered to Serve Faith-Based Accelerator. It is a grant-based funding initiative to help leaders evolve their business models aimed at erasing health disparities and addressing the social determinants of health in their communities.

“We are looking to train mental health coaches in our local churches,” said Shanklin, who lost her brother to suicide. “They aren’t professionals, but they can help anyone who is struggling to find a support network and really face their challenges. Ultimately, we want to build a network that can replicate this coaching. … It is not limited to the church. or faith. It can be anyone’s. For every Hanover, Maryland, there are hundreds of cities across the country struggling with these issues. “

Just minutes from the center is Baltimore / Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, named in honor of the first black judge of the Supreme Court. “The measure of a country’s greatness,” Marshall once said, “is its ability to maintain compassion in times of crisis.”

Shanklin believes the Transformation Center can help fulfill this mission.

“Our goal is really to position ourselves for this next pandemic: mental health,” he said. “Religious leaders are in a unique position to educate their congregations about mental health and how to deal with the stigma associated with it. We will continue the good fight.

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or owned by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments on this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Michelle Hiskey

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