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'We’re closer together than we are different’

Photo by Allayana Darrow | First Presbyterian Church of Ashland plans to host a mental health series this summer and fall.
Mental health series kicks off Sunday at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland

ASHLAND — First Presbyterian Church of Ashland will host the first session of a mental health series Sunday, July 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 1615 Clark Ave. and online.

The first session of the series, titled “Mental Health Resiliency After the Pandemic,” focuses on how to strengthen oneself and in turn, offer capacity to help others, said the Rev. Dan Fowler.

“We look for places where there’s brokenness, places where there’s poverty, places where folks are struggling with issues of mental health, and if we have the resources to help, we want to do that,” Fowler said of his motivation to offer the series.

Four one-hour presentations and several two- to three-hour sessions hosted by Southern Oregon mental health service providers are scheduled through Oct. 23, when the series is scheduled to conclude with a session about trauma informed care.

Other scheduled topics include compassionate caregiving and “setting boundaries, not barriers.” Some sessions will include small group discussion.

The mental health series is funded through the national Presbyterian Church mental health ministry grant program.

Fowler said his own response to the first fellowship gathering after a year-and-a-half, with 40 people crowded into a small room, was a wakeup call to what the community might face on its way out of a pandemic.

“I was good for about 10 minutes and then my brain said, ‘You need to leave,’” Fowler recalled. “I hadn’t seen that many people in one space in so long.”

Walking into the grocery store without a mask, looking upon other bare faces, can leave people feeling “naked” and uneasy, said Bea Berry, church member and co-organizer for the mental health series.

Walking in close proximity to others sometimes inspires anxiety after months of conditioning on the physically-distant new normal, while others struggle to understand how to provide respectful and supportive care to loved ones with mental health issues, she said.

Series coordinator Siri Alrick said when combined, wildfire threat and trauma from Labor Day 2020 fires, a tumultuous political environment, pandemic, isolation, finances and any number of other personal and influential factors leave many individuals wondering, “How do I handle that?” — a question he hopes to answer through the mental health series.

Along the “continuum” of mental illness and mental health challenges, “we’re closer together than we are different,” Alrick said.

Fowler and Berry emphasized that the series is intended as an invitation to the entire community — not only the church congregation — to access support and become apprised of available mental health resources at no cost.

The session will be held in the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland administration building fireside room and livestreamed on YouTube Sunday.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.