By American Heart Association News, HealthDay reporter
MONDAY, Dec 6, 2021 (American Heart Association News) — When belongings pile up on the sidewalk from an eviction in western Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Abraham Shanklin Jr. sees more than a housing crisis. When low-income people can’t find a reliable way to get to work, he sees beyond transportation problems.
Since 1994, when he became a pastor there, Shanklin has traced the roots of a common struggle.
“The constant thread in all of this is mental health,” he said. “In other words, if your mind is not right, your life will not be right.”
In 2014, Shanklin created a religious non-profit organization to address this challenge. The Transformation Center in Hanover, Maryland, offers health, education, and employment programs for families in need, regardless of religious affiliation.
During the pandemic, the center and its community partners were prepared when depression, anxiety, and other psychological pain became more prevalent. Today, they are piloting a mental health training program, with a two-year goal of increasing access to evidence-based public health programs by 70%.
“When some churches in our area closed for good during the pandemic, I felt like this: I’m so glad we’ve expanded so we can accommodate this crisis right at our doorstep,” Shanklin, 56, said recently. He completed his PhD in Clinical Christian Counseling.
The Transformation Center serves a multicultural community in western Anne Arundel County south of Baltimore. Famous for its stunning views of the Chesapeake Bay, the average household income in the county is more than $100,000. But the western part of it is largely landlocked, with low incomes, little public transportation, and affordable housing scarce.
It is also heavily influenced by the US military, with the US Naval Academy and Fort George C. Meade located nearby.
Shanklin’s friend, Doante Duckett, is an Air Force veteran and pastor of the New Kingdom Church of Faith Christian in nearby Glen Burnie. “Many of us in this kind of community work are ex-military and veterans who know the only way to win any war is to play on the ground,” Duckett said. “When someone has mental health issues, you have to have a ground game to make sure they get the necessary resources. It’s going to cost a lot of human resources to make sure that mental health is done right. That’s what it takes.”
Shanklin also served in the Air Force when he moved to the area in 1987. Six years later, he joined healthcare IT, but “then I felt a call to more community involvement and faith leadership.”
He believed that being called a priest also meant that God would provide for anyone who appeared needy.
Members of his church formed the Mental Health Ministry which became a counseling service that is now part of the Transformation Center. Before the pandemic, the center moved to a new building, which then became a headquarters for distributing food to 1,400 families and providing COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
Shanklin and his team were inspired by the Bible verse Romans 12:2. “Do not be like this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“We want people to be the best version of themselves,” Shanklin said. “How can we be a place to help people be their best self? By offering relevant solutions and creative ideas through a holistic approach.”
This groundwork is necessary because the enclaves in western Anne Arundel County are considered a mental desert due to their lack of mental health providers, a designation the Federal Health Resources and Services Administration calls a mental health care shortage area. One pocket, Shanklin said, is the community of Pioneer City, where 9 out of 10 residents are black, Hispanic or other color.
This problem is exacerbated by cultural and structural barriers known as social determinants of health.
“African Americans experience multiple forms of traumatic stressors such as heavy police operations, visual and verbal attacks, and intergenerational issues that are passed down through generations,” Shanklin said. “As a pastor, I saw firsthand the impact of these stressors. A young woman in our parish who did not have access to proper mental health resources was heading straight for a bridge. It was probably one of the most terrifying moments of intervention in my life.”
“Mental illness in the black community has always been a sensitive topic – the common belief is that you don’t go to therapy, you don’t go to counseling, you don’t take medicine. You just go to church, and the church will do it right. You don’t talk to people about your work. In Basically, you put on your bulky pants, and you keep moving.”
But the center’s work is helping to change that. In one year, the number of families receiving mental health services from the center rose from 30 to 100. They attended, Shanklin said, after the community decided to “spread awareness of stigma language around mental illness, and educate family, friends, and colleagues about the unique challenges.” mental illness within the black community and being aware of our attitudes and beliefs toward the black community to reduce implicit bias and negative assumptions.”
The Transformation Center received support this year from the American Heart Association’s Enabled Service for the Faith-Based Accelerator. It is a grant-funding initiative to help leaders scale their business models that aim to erase health disparities and address the social determinants of health in their communities.
“We seek to train mental health coaches in our local churches,” said Shanklin, who lost his brother to suicide. “They are not professionals, but they can help anyone who is struggling to find a network of support and really deal with their challenges head-on. Ultimately, we want to create a network that can reproduce that training. … It’s not just about the church or the faith. It can be a king Anyone. In every city in Hanover, Maryland, there are hundreds of cities across the country that are grappling with these issues.”
Just a few minutes from the center is Baltimore/Washington International Airport Thurgood Marshall, named after the first black Supreme Court justice. Marshall once said, “The measure of a nation’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”
Shanklin believes the Transformation Center can help achieve this mission.
“Our focus is really on positioning ourselves in the face of this next epidemic: mental health,” he said. “Religion leaders are in a unique position to educate their followers about mental health and ways to deal with the stigma associated with it. We will continue to fight well.”
American Heart Association news covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or operated by the American Heart Association, Inc. , All rights reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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