Pastors Rick and Kay Warren lead effort to focus churches on helping those with mental illness

Pastors Rick and Kay Warren kick-off the gathering on the church and mental health. Nearly 3,000 people attended the three-day conference at Orange County's mega-church Saddleback.
Pastors Rick and Kay Warren kick-off the gathering on the church and mental health. Nearly 3,000 people attended the three-day conference at Orange County's mega-church Saddleback.
Scott Tokar/Saddleback
Pastors Rick and Kay Warren kick-off the gathering on the church and mental health. Nearly 3,000 people attended the three-day conference at Orange County's mega-church Saddleback.
Saddleback Church created a Hope Starter Kit for churches that want to create mental health outreach.
Elizabeth Aguilera
Pastors Rick and Kay Warren kick-off the gathering on the church and mental health. Nearly 3,000 people attended the three-day conference at Orange County's mega-church Saddleback.
Elizabeth Aguilera


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Church leaders, parishioners and mental health experts are gathered at Saddleback Church in Orange County for a three-day conference to educate faith-based communities about mental illness. 

Nearly 3,000 people are attending the Lake Forest event, which is part mental health education and part faith lecture about why and how to help those struggling with mental illness. 

This week's conference, which lasts through Friday, is the second annual event sponsored by the church. The first was a one-day symposium held last year with the support of Orange County Diocese Bishop Kevin Vann.

"With these struggles there is a great sense of isolation," Vann said. "So this shows that we can help that."

The conference was inspired by the loss Saddleback Church Pastors Rick and Kay Warren suffered when their son, Matthew, committed suicide in 2013 after a long battle with mental illness.

“We knew instantly that we were going to jump into mental illness, suicide prevention, early diagnosis for children, all the things that we had live through,” Kay Warren said.

Their grief, she said, grew a passion to return the church to its roots of helping all of the sick, including those with mental illness.

Historically, Warren said, the church ministered to the sick. through the years, however, that changed. Mental illness, she said, became seen as an issue of character deficiency. 

"And all the while people living with a mental illness... became stigmatized and left without the comfort of the church," she said. 

The Warrens and other spiritual leaders who have joined in this effort say it’s time for that to change.

“We want to get back to the way it was:  God’s heart and the heart of Christ has always been about compassion,” she said. 

Faith leaders say about a quarter of people dealing with mental health issues seek guidance from their pastor, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.7 million adults in the United States, or 18 percent of the nation's adult population, experience mental illness each year.

Among teenagers 13-to-18 years-old, 22 percent experience a severe mental disorder during their life, NAMI reports. 

Ken White, executive director of NAMI Orange County, said the church's efforts are critical in helping those with mental illness.

"We have to talk about it openly, honestly, candidly and in a community that is accepting and compassion and the church is one of the most important places that we can do that," White said.

For more information or to watch the sessions: hope4mentalhealth.com