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Casper Notebook: Local pastor embraces faith as a tool for addressing mental illness
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CASPER NOTEBOOK

Casper Notebook: Local pastor embraces faith as a tool for addressing mental illness

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I woke up last Thursday morning and knew right away it would be a migraine day. If you are also a migraine sufferer, I imagine you count time like this, too, in migraine days and non-migraine days.

I had a handful of interviews scheduled for the day, but by 11 a.m. I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the afternoon.

Mary Schmidt didn’t mind rescheduling with me. In fact, as a migraine sufferer herself, she understood and even gave me an at-home remedy to try.

I think it’s important to lead with this, my first true encounter with Mary. I want you to come into this story with the same base knowledge I did. That Mary is an empath and that she uses her own life experiences to try to help others.

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Mary is the associate pastor at Casper First Methodist Church and is leading a mental health study at Kings Corner, 112 S. Beech St.

I asked first for the logistics. The study is a free seven-week course, covering topics like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It’s held at King’s Corner every Saturday from 1:30-2:30 p.m. for the next several weeks, open to the community but predicated on the church’s homeless ministry at King’s Corner. Licensed therapists have been in attendance to answer questions and offer guidance.

The study is already a few weeks underway, but Mary said anyone is welcome to attend any week. You don’t need to go through it start to finish.

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The study comes from a Christian video service called Right Now Media. The church has used the service for its Tuesday night Bible studies, so when the company came out with this mental health study, Mary was all over it.

The idea is that by talking about the issues, by being able to ask questions and listen to the others in the room, something may resonate, or a participant may realize something about themselves they hadn’t before. Or perhaps they could be connected to a new resource, Mary said.

When I asked her why this particular topic was so important to her, personally, she gave me the usual answers: Wyoming’s high suicide rate, particularly for children — indeed, the rate of teen suicide in Wyoming has gone up 40 percent in just the last three years — and the rate of untreated addiction and mental illness among the city’s homeless.

But then she started to get more personal.

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Mary began her dealings with the ebb and flow of mental illness in high school. It was the 1970s. It was Georgia.

“You just didn’t talk about it,” she said.

So she pushed it down. Tried to ignore the sense that “something wasn’t quite right.”

It wasn’t until she started at the University of Georgia, pursuing a degree in social work, that she realized talking to someone might help her sort those feelings out. She met with a counselor, but when she tried to bring up her faith as an avenue for coping with her feelings, she felt brushed off, told that her faith was “a crutch,” nothing more.

So off she went again, to wander the maze of mental health on her own.

In graduate school she met a counselor who encouraged her to embrace her faith as a means of support. That helped, she said. But there were still moments where things wouldn’t feel quite right. No matter, she pursued her career and lived her life.

It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that somebody suggested to her that medication might help.

In living through these personal struggles with the often cyclical nature of mental illness, Mary feels poised to relate on a different level.

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She hopes this mental health study the church is offering can give people the same hope she eventually found through her own challenges.

“It’s not a poor man’s disease, nor is it an upper-class problem,” she said. “So, if we can help just one person know there is hope, there is help.”

This is also why it’s so crucial that this conversation be viewed through the lens of faith, she said.

“That’s the only way I’ve gotten through it,” she added.

Casper Notebook is taking a new approach and looking to learn a little more about people about town. If you know someone worth learning about, email morgan.hughes@trib.com with suggestions for future columns.

Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Hughes primarily covers local government. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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