The state director of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health offered the community a lesson on how to take care of each other, particularly those dealing with mental health issues.

Dr. Kenneth Rogers was the keynote speaker at the Family Health Centers Inc.’s first Mental Health Symposium on Thursday.

“Mental illness doesn’t just show up out of the blue. Many times it’s actually triggered by things that happened in people’s lives. I believe that God actually placed us on this earth to take care of each other,” Rogers said.

“From the beginning of time, that was his plan, that we’re all there to be our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So my question to you is: How are we going to do that in our lives and in the lives of the people around us?” he said.

He said the absence of illness is not exactly wellness and that the community needs to spend more time providing wrap-around services to support those struggling with mental health issues.

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“We need to get to a place as a community where we take care of each other. That community could be a church, it could be a neighborhood, it could be an organization. It could be any place that begins to wrap their heads around taking care of each other,” Rogers said.

“I did begin to think about this whole idea of: How do we transform the lives of individuals and families? How do we restore hope when things look dark? How do we transform insanity to sanity? How do we become an advocate for those who have mental health issues?” he said.

Rogers continued, “That’s where we get this whole idea of healthcare and health care. When we think of healthcare first, we think of somebody that’s in need of treatment. In other words, you have a sickness of some kind, you come into a building, we supply something to you and you get better versus health care of really caring for your health in a much greater way.

“How many of us actually do things to take care of ourselves? Sunshine, … a little exercise, enough water, friendships, engagement, finding things that actually give you meaning in life. That’s all a part of that second health care.”

He said medications cannot treat everything and that religion and mental health aren’t always complementary, but “can also be problematic because sometimes it’s hard to sort out where things fit on one side.”

“Generally, when we think about characters in the Bible, we generally don’t think about the ones that are depressed, the ones that are psychotic, the ones that actually got themselves in all kinds of problems because of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma and all kinds of things that exist,” Rogers said.

He continued, “I realize that you always have to question what you know that’s right in front of you because sometimes it doesn’t always make sense. … Everybody that has mental health issues aren’t poor, they’re not broke and they’re not alone. Some actually live in great families.”

Held under the theme “Breaking the Stigma,” last week’s event aimed to promote mental health awareness and highlight stigmas that discourage mental health treatment.

“Despite advancements in psychiatry, mental health treatment has continued to be stigmatized today. Community engagement and open dialogue about the importance of emotional wellness are essential to dispelling stigmas toward mental and mental health treatment,” said Dr. Stacey Graham, FHC’s director of behavioral health.

“Stigmas are disempowering and compromise access to treatment, diagnosis and successful health outcomes. Community systems of care consist of social service agencies, health care facilities, education entities, law enforcement and faith-based organizations which can constitute the gateway for connecting individuals to mental health services,” Graham said.

Hope Burch and Terri Neals provided personal testimonials on the importance of taking care of mental health. Burch lost her son, Brandon, 21, to suicide in 2021, while Neals lost her son, Terrence, 26, six years ago in a car accident.

“The loss of a child is one that’s just terrible, hard to bear. I’ve come a long way,” Neals said.

Burch said, “My son lives within me even in his absence. … Let’s take the stigma off of mental health because it is very much needed.”

She stressed to audience members that they should never give up on their family members who may be going through mental health issues.

“Find out what they need,” she said.

The Rev. Jerome Anderson, the pastor of Unity Fellowship Community Church of Orangeburg, said Rogers’ message of caring resonated with him.

“I thought he said a whole lot. Basically what he talked about is what we’re trying to do with community action planners. That’s the transformation of a community to tap into mental health, to also give a different definition of mental health that includes people with things like anxiety, like depression so that you can take the stigma off mental health,” Anderson said.

“The gist of it for me was caring, having a caring community and a community that, first of all, can identify people with issues and also be there, especially as a faith community, for them. So I think things went well,” he said.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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