It was just a few weeks since the Sheehan family moved back to Massachusetts after five years living in Memphis Tennessee. Exploring our surroundings, the streets and areas near our new home brought a sense of adventure to every journey. In previous blogs, I have confessed that our family has a penchant for road tripping…well at least Andrea and I do, the girls and dogs tag along!
One such adventure took us along Route 123 from our new home town of Hanover east toward the coast, we got to Norwell and that’s where we noticed them, like soldiers on guard, upstanding and brightly colored as if in ceremonial dress…seven of them, seven…doors!
Now, I know you might have been expecting more from the end of that sentence than the word “doors” for goodness sake. Do they not have doors in Memphis or the UK I hear you say. However, it was the location, color and meaning of these particular doors that gave Andrea and I pause.
Each painted in its own rainbow color, these doors stood with, and for, pride. They were right there on the street in front of the United Church of Christ in Norwell (UCC Norwell). They were symbols of welcome, affirmation and inclusion…They were a striking invitation for all to “come on in.”
It can take a little time to respond to invitations, for the Sheehans it took almost a year (and a prompt to meet from a community friend who understood that UCC Norwell were “interested in doing something on mental health) to meet with leaders in the Church. However, it took just one conversation with Leanne Walt, lead pastor at UCC Norwell, to understand that the welcome at UCC Norwell was a warm one and the desire to think about community action on reducing stigma was earnest.
Since that first meeting, we have begun a partnership that gives us hope for a community conversation that’ll have real impact. Together with South Shore Health, South Shore YMCA, South Shore Peer Recovery, Boys and Girls Club of Marshfield and TIC Network, Aspire Health Alliance is undertaking an awareness-raising program in partnership with UCC Norwell. Aspire clinicians, including Drs. Samantha O’Connell and Phil Quinn, are offering training on key aspects of mental health including common but much misunderstood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Thanks to Kathleen Bambrick, our Director of Training, we are also teaching Mental Health First Aid which offers tools to people interested in offering a supportive, informed and compassionate response to those in need.
Our program kicked off two weeks ago when I did a talk at UCC Norwell to seventy-five people who stayed behind after a Sunday morning service to hear more about our plans and the opportunities ahead. I told those assembled that, whilst they wouldn’t remember everything that I said, I would guarantee that they would remember three things: two of them being the messages given through the personal witness of two congregation members who were prepared to share their own mental health experiences (stories that were compelling, challenging, hopeful and inspiring all at once). The third thing I promised everyone would remember was the message enshrined in our organizational vision, “There can be no health without mental health.”
A couple of days ago I was in a local coffee shop and someone in line tapped me on my shoulder. She said, “I was there when you gave your talk” she continued without missing a beat, “Three things I remember — the moving stories of two courageous women and, that there can be no health without mental health.” I hugged her.
Our message needs to be out in this world, it’s a good one. “Alliance” the last word in our name implies humility, a desire to work with others in service of our mission to serve more and serve better and, to take on the implications of stigma for those facing behavioral health challenges. Our partnership with UCC Norwell is entitled “Lifting the stigma, bringing mental illness into the light.”
I’m grateful for our Aspire experts for their time and contribution, to our partners at UCC Norwell for their help in convening those prepared to help, to our community partners for their support. We need all arms locked in this common cause and welcome the opportunity to work in the larger faith-based community to get that message out.
I’m most grateful for the beautiful rainbow doors…Next time I’ll walk through an open door of invitation a little more quickly, more assured that likely through that door open hearts and minds await, with hands of friendship extended.
Aspire Health Alliance