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?Shadow Voices’ documentary addresses mental illness

Nov. 16, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

In many local churches, mental illness remains an unknown and unaddressed social issue.

The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder, a United Methodist pastor in San Diego, Calif., has firsthand knowledge of this problem. Diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, she is “doing very well” with medication and is coordinator of mental health ministries for the denomination’s California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.

Gregg-Schroeder is featured in “Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness,” which will begin airing Dec. 4 on ABC-TV affiliates. The one-hour documentary was produced by Mennonite Media and the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission, which includes United Methodist participation, for the National Council of Churches.

The program follows 10 individuals who have dealt with mental illness, and it offers expert analysis from mental health specialists, counselors and religious leaders.

“Faith communities have done a very good job of reaching out and providing help and care with addictions, for homelessness, AIDS, a lot of different things that our society is going through,” Gregg-Schroeder says in the documentary. “Mental illness is also at the root of many of those things, but because of the fear, the stigma and the shame that is still often associated with mental illness, many of our faith communities avoid talking about it.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo courtesy of Mennonite Media

The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder is coordinator of mental health ministries in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. She has bipolar disorder.
Yet, according to statistics, one in five people will suffer a major depressive episode during their life, usually before the age of 40. More than 2.3 million U.S. residents have a bipolar disorder, and 10 million have a depressive disorder.

Through Mental Health Ministries, Gregg-Schroeder has produced 10 “television-quality” VHS resources and two DVDs on mental health, all with study guides. She also has written a book, In the Shadow of God’s Wings: Grace in the Midst of Depression, for the United Methodist Church’s Upper Room, and the ministry program has created a “Creating Caring Congregations” resource.

“But my ministry is really ecumenical and interfaith,” she told United Methodist News Service. “I also speak to mental health providers to help them understand the importance of incorporating a person’s healthy spirituality into the treatment process as part of cultural competency.”

The mission of Mental Health Ministries “is to educate faith leaders and lay persons for the purpose of decreasing the stigma associated with mental illnesses in our faith communities” and to “give voice to those who have suffered in silence.”

Gregg-Schroeder would like more congregations to learn about the resources of Mental Health Ministries and about how to provide compassionate care to those coping with mental disorders.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo courtesy of Mennonite Media

“There is a shame in the way that we treat people who are mentally ill,” says Risdon Slate, a criminology professor.
“I’m hoping the documentary will raise awareness of how important a person’s spirituality can be in the recovery process and that it is important for faith communities and other community and provider groups to work together as part of the President’s New Freedom Report recommendations,” she added. In 2003, President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health submitted a report examining specific aspects of mental health services with recommendations for improvement.

The documentary shows that treatment can be very successful. Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms with a combination of medicines, counseling and support systems. Rehabilitation efforts help people find jobs, return to school and re-establish family relationships.

In June 1986, Risdon Slate, a United Methodist who is a criminology professor at Florida Southern College, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I don’t think there’s any shame in being mentally ill,” he says during the documentary. “But I think there is a shame in the way that we treat people who are mentally ill and particularly by people who should know better: the mental health system, the criminal justice system and policymakers who have the ability to influence legislation regarding parity.”

More information about the program can be found at, which also has a listing of air dates and times for local ABC affiliates. Viewers also can contact their local stations for air dates and times.

VHS and DVD copies of “Shadow Voices” will be available beginning Dec. 15. To order, call (800) 999-3534. “Creating Caring Congregations” in VHS and DVD formats also will be available at, the Mennonite Media Web site.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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