Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge is offering a special training opportunity for pastors to help them deal with the many different types of mental health issues they may encounter while serving their congregations.

The hospital will host a free “Mental Health First Aid Training for Pastors” class from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at The Learning Center at 414 E. Parker Road in Morganton.

“This class is wonderful,” said Anna Wilson, marketing and business development specialist at CHS Blue Ridge. “Our marketing department has been through the training, and it really provides some useful insight into helping people and recognizing the signs of someone in mental distress. We’ve had a few sessions open to the public, but this is the first time we have offered MHFA training to our community pastors.”
MHFA is an eight-hour course in which pastors learn a five-step strategy to help someone dealing with a mental health issue or experiencing suicidal thoughts. The strategy includes listening, assessing risk and supporting the individual in crisis. It also includes identifying other professional help and support the individual may need.
“Pastors are often on the front lines caring for church members dealing with mental health issues,” said Chaplain Francisco Risso in the department of pastoral care at CHS Blue Ridge. “We want to provide them with the tools to help. At CHS, we are more than happy to contribute our resources by providing this information for the benefit of our community.”
During the class, pastors will engage in experiential activities to help them understand the impact of illness not only on the individual suffering from the illness, but also the impact on families watching their loved ones suffer. Pastors also will learn successful treatments and things to teach individuals to do on their own to make it through recovery.
For the past two years in May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, CHS Blue Ridge offered the course to the public, said Wilson. This is the only class that will be offered to pastors at this time, but if there is enough interest they may offer it again. 
“I know it will be hard for pastors to take a whole day for training, but this class is really worth it and has very practical techniques they can use to help people in crisis,” Wilson said.
Russo shared how he benefitted from taking the class.
“I have attended a MHFA training (session), and what sticks with me is the idea that one necessary step of dealing with this issue is to overcome the stigma around mental health issues,” said Risso. “They are not due to personal moral failures, but are something that can affect anyone, no matter their background or circumstances. Sufferers should thus be treated mercifully, especially by faith communities.”
The course will highlight risk factors and warning signs for mental health, as well as substance use problems.
“We hope this is a first step in getting local pastors involved in the effort to overcome the problems that arise in a community when mental health is not adequately addressed,” said Risso.
To register, call Dennis Stamper at 828-580-5143. There is no deadline for registration and seating is unlimited. A free lunch will be provided.
Barbara Jolly-Deakle is a News Herald correspondent and member of the Morganton Writers’ Group. She can be reached at

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