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Mental health ministry: Calvary Lutheran in Mount Airy offers training, Feb. 24

MOUNT AIRY — Jeff Alderdice considers himself fortunate: He’s found his church, Calvary Evangelical Lutheran.

And he’s not even Lutheran.

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“I was not Lutheran until I joined this church about a year ago, I just really liked the church and the way they did the ministry,” the Mount Airy resident said. “It’s really great that this church, the pastors and congregation are so attentive to this issue and have long worked with it.”

The “issue” is mental health. Understanding it, de-stigmatizing it and preaching about it. Alderdice is passionate about mental health awareness, but said that once you fan out from the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area, resources can become thin. He found Calvary to be a point of light in the dark.

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“Mental health has always been something we focus on in our preaching and workshops that we offer,” said Anke Deibler, co-pastor of the church. “It’s a way to serve the community; to offer help, to offer ministry, to offer a support system and to rake away the stigma of mental health issues.”

It is, she said, a way of showing God’s grace for all people.

Several years ago, after a young woman committed suicide, Deibler said, “We brought speakers from different world religions to speak on what religions actually say about suicide and how can religions be a source of comfort when you are faced with suicide.”

In May, for Mental Health Awareness Month, “We had someone preach on her struggle with depression and how faith has been a help with that,” Deibler said.

That tradition continues on Saturday, Feb. 24, when the church hosts its first mental health first aid training course.

“The best way to describe it is if somebody thinks about getting trained in CPR first aid from the Red Cross, that’s for physical health. This is that same concept only for mental health,” said course instructor Nancy Kelly.

The eight-hour class begins at 8:30 a.m. and is designed to give people the tools they need in order to help others, or oneself, when dealing with mental health issues, according to Kelly.

Just as with physical first aid programs, according to Kelly, there is an acronym to serve as a mnemonic.

“It’s ALGEE: Assessing, Listening, Giving Reassurance, Encouraging professional and self-help. Each of those represents a step the first-aider would take,” she said.

“We go through depression, anxiety, psychosis, suicide, nonsuicidal self-injury, pretty much all the major mental health disorders. We talk about the disorder and then we talk about how to provide first aid to someone who may be developing a disorder, or is in crisis.”

The class size is somewhat limited, Deibler said, and the course is $25, though she noted that no one should stay away due simply to the tuition cost.

We have some scholarships available so the cost should not keep anybody from coming. Lunch is provided,” she said. “We only have 17 registered so far. If more people show up, it is not a problem. At this point I would say just show up.”

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The church cannot accept credit cards, so cash or check is preferred, Deibler said.

It’s this sort of program that drew Alderdice to Calvary, not simply because he is sympathetic to those dealing with mental health issues, but because he has wrestled with his own.

“I am actually a three-time Iraq veteran — I did three combat tours in Iraq. I was Marine Corps infantry and to this day I have chronic PTSD,” he said. “It’s something that affects a lot of people in a lot of ways.”

It’s the first time the mental health first aid course will be offered at the church, and that is thanks to Alderdice: Kelly has been offering the course at the National Cancer Institute, where Alderdice is the emergency preparedness manager.

“There are so many mental health issues out there and courses like this really highlight all of them,” Alderdice said. “The course curriculum does include talking about PTSD, as well as a whole bunch of issues.”

Having had a chance to benefit from Calvary’s ministry — he is now a member — he is happy to help expand it.

“Our congregation and pastors are very into mental health awareness. I thought this was something they would really like and sure enough, they jumped on it,” he said. “It’s applicable to a much broader audience than people would generally think and has really been a great ministry for the church, I think.”

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