Church to start new mental health support group

Published 9:02 am Monday, May 2, 2022

A community-wide mental health support group is coming to First Presbyterian Church.

Charles Teixeira, pastor at the church, wanted to start this after noticing a need in the area.

“We have some of the best physical health in our country available right here within a short radius,” he said. “But as far as safe places to talk about mental health struggles, those are kind of few and far between. We know Minnesotans are, and Albert Leans are, wanting to find that space to talk about things that are sometimes really uncomfortable.”

The support group was something Teixeira was considering before he arrived in Albert Lea, and said before he arrived, members of First Presbyterian had lost family to suicide. And by holding the support group, he wants people to have an opportunity to talk to others about their mental health struggles.

“Even looking at Albert Lea, looking at census data, looking at county data, especially, there is a great need because of the percentage of hospitalization that comes with mental health struggles,” he said. 

Each meeting will start as a large gathering before participants break off into smaller, facilitated group discussions with each group being eight or less. During those small group sessions, participants will be guided into a discussion by a facilitator. During that time, people can also sit back and observe whatever is discussed.

“Really all we’re looking to do is have a safe, confidential space for people to discuss their experiences of anxiety and depression,” he said.

Topics will include obstacles in permission to talk about mental health, how faith and mental health interact, moving from isolation to communities, speaking and listening to pains, tools for overwhelming moments, removing obstacles to mental health, knowing when to ask for help and the importance of telling your story.

“A lot of this will hinge on how comfortable people are saying they struggle with anxiety or depression so that the people in their circles feel more comfortable than sharing that they also struggle in their anxiety or depression,” he said. “So all-in-all, we’ll cover, I think, a broad array of topics from the lens of either themselves struggling or whether they’re looking to support someone who’s struggling.”

In the program, people with different medical backgrounds and those with history of mental health recovery will be there to help. There may even be other pastors from different congregations on hand to help. Teixeria said as far as he knew, no other church in Albert Lea offered this type of program.

“Mental health isn’t purely a spiritual issue, but it’s also not purely a medical issue,” he said.

The program is open to anyone in the community free of charge, and there has been discussions of other church congregations participating. Gatherings start at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday and will run through May and June, with a week off on June 2.  Each Thursday session will be roughly an hour long.

“Even if you spend all eight weeks wanting to observe and you’re not ready to talk, we’re just glad that you’re here,” he said.

Teixeria said the people he has spoken with show a commitment to attending and said response was overwhelming, and that it validates the need within the community.

The project is something he has wanted to do but hadn’t had space to do, but he said he had done behavioral health support groups in other places.

“My wife and I both have social work backgrounds, so we’re really familiar with meeting people where they are,” he said.   

Depending on how the pilot program works, the program will start again in the fall.

“This is across the board an issue that I know our county cares deeply for, but we need more hands on deck to try to support Albert Leans in their mental health struggles,” he said.