After schizophrenia drove him to attempt suicide, David Mandani found himself strapped to a hospital bed in a psychiatric unit with his distraught parents peering at him through a tiny window.
“That was one of the darkest times in my life,” Mandani told the crowd of about 3,300 people packed into the Worship Center at Saddleback Church on Friday for The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church.
“My mental illness brought great devastation to my family, friends and community, but we didn’t talk about it,” Mandani said. “Looking back, I know now that the stigma, the shame and the many misconceptions about mental illness we all held were enormous barriers to me getting help.”
Those barriers must come down to get those with mental illness the help they need, faith leaders said at the conference, which was put on by church co-founders Rick and Kay Warren, Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange and the Orange County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“The ravages of mental illness, the effect that it has on those with the mental illness and their families, is untold,” said Steve Pitman, president of the alliance’s local chapter. “They are unspeakable. There is no excuse for it to be this way in 2014, and there is no single group or agenda that is going to solve this problem by themselves.”
Still, churches are well positioned to help those with mental illness since many sufferers seek solace from their place of worship, Rick Warren said.
Susan Burnett of Yorba Linda said when her son started struggling with mental illness at age 20, she and her husband, Jim, didn’t know where to turn and didn’t feel comfortable talking about his issues.
They watched helplessly as he lost friends to fear and misunderstanding. Jim Burnett said he feels too ashamed to bring up his son’s struggles, even in Bible study group.
When they found out about Friday’s event, the Burnetts bought tickets immediately.
“I thought: ‘Finally!’” Susan Burnett said. “(Mental illness) is not a sin. Let’s talk about it.”
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