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August 24, 2021

Pathways to Hope Conference Reduces Stigma and Builds Community

Returning as a free online event August 27 – 28, 2021, the Pathways to Hope Conference strives to reduce the stigma of mental illness by building relationships, empowering community members, and sharing resources. It will bring people together from San Antonio and beyond for meaningful presentations and expert-led workshops to equip family members, peers, faith communities, and mental health professionals, with a particular focus this year on diversity and inclusion in mental health.

National research shows that one in five Americans experience some form of mental illness in a typical year.* Some people move through it on their own or with help, but over time these experiences add up, affecting over 47% of the overall population. Doug Beach, Pathways to Hope Chairperson and Board President of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) San Antonio, shares “Everybody knows somebody who will have a mental health disorder or have a friend or a coworker or a neighbor or somebody they care about experience this. And what we’re trying to do in part is help people learn how to talk about it. This conference is a way for us to begin to learn how to support one another as a community.”

“Maybe you don’t know why you’re coming, but somebody will say something and a light bulb goes off.” Beach continues, “Also, COVID has definitely exacerbated everybody’s mental stress. It’s turned our lives upside down. People have lost their jobs, they’ve lost their homes, lost loved ones who have died. It’s isolated people, which is one of the really detrimental effects of the pandemic; we need to be in community to maintain our health. Addressing that will be part of the conference too, right up front.”

The Faith Communities workshops, one of four options at the conference, will explore Bridges to Care, an educational program connecting local congregations to one another and city wellness resources that was inspired by conversations at Pathways to Hope in 2020. The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, Associate Rector of Christ Church, San Antonio, will share his congregation’s experiences with the new initiative in a Friday morning workshop, including how it enriched their existing ministries and ways to replicate Bridges to Care cohorts in other communities throughout Texas.

“The single most significant thing this conference does is it pulls people together from all different backgrounds and asks, ‘How can we, as a whole community, tackle mental health and mental wellness in a way that gives dignity and respect to the people who are struggling?”

Lindstrom continues, “The name of the conference is truly what it does. It gives a ‘pathway to hope’ not only for the people who have mental illness, but also those who are serving people with mental illness. And Bridges to Care is the only initiative, really a movement, that I’ve ever been involved with in ministry where it’s the faith community, the city, the county, and service providers all coming together for a single purpose.”

Several of these identities overlap in Judge Polly Spencer, current member of St. Mark’s, San Antonio and retired Bexar County Probate Court Judge responsible for the Civil Mental Health Docket. Reflecting on the ways many faith traditions and county programs failed to address mental health in the past, Spencer shares, “For this type of gathering to stress to people of faith that you need to start really considering how you can help and not further stigmatize people is a wonderful thing. It is mind-broadening to hear what people have to say and to learn about the various types of mental illness that manifest themselves in people we may see walking down the street. For me, having had this experience, it always colors the way I approach things now.”

“It is very important for the faith community as a whole to speak to this issue with compassion,” Spencer continues. “When I used to teach my Sunday School class, and the kids would begetting ready to do one of those downtown service projects, I’d say, ‘You know, when you’re offering that person a taco and you look into their eyes, you never know when you might be looking at Jesus. –And that’s what I think Pathways is about, helping people to learn that they might be looking at Jesus.”

No one speaks more highly of Pathways to Hope conference than Magdalena Crittenden, member of St. Margaret’s, San Antonio, NAMI San Antonio community leader, and steadfast mental health advocate. Through years of pursuing an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for her family member, followed by decades of advocacy and community outreach, Crittenden credits her faith for the motivation to keep going and the resources provided by NAMI San Antonio and Pathways to Hope as an informational lifeline.

Asked about how faith can inform mental health and the way she responds in the moment to someone experiencing mental illness, Crittenden shares, “My prayer, for myself and for anyone who experiences this in their family, is to ask God for his grace to give me the ability to listen without making judgments, ask how I can help, avoid confrontation, and share practical information and resources that have worked for me in the past.”

“I have attended this conference every year, four times in person and now two times online. I can see firsthand the way that the speakers and workshops have shaped my views. I know there is hope, especially as more people get information to better understand the affected person or family member.”  

Each person interviewed spoke about Pathways to Hope with gratitude and excitement, wanting to inspire others to attend and connect with the opportunities for learning and community created by the conference as well as other year-round mental health initiatives.

“I am so thankful to just be a part of Pathways to Hope. It’s been a wonderful experience,” reflected Doug Beach, who helped start the conference in 2016 in collaboration with San Antonio clergy and city leaders. “You know, people picture a conference about mental illness, and think, ‘I bet there are a bunch of sad people walking around, looking down at their shoes.’ But no, people are looking up. They’re finding community. They’re finding a place. They’re finding hope.

More information and registration for the 2021 Pathways to Hope Conference is online, at pathwaystohope.net. The two-day, free conference will take place live Friday and Saturday, August 27 - 28, and will be recorded as well for replay at a later date.

Resources & Support

If you or a loved one need mental health support, follow the links below to connect with online resources and Episcopal churches certified as "Behavioral Health and Wellness Friendly Congregations" through Bridges to Care San Antonio.

*"Mental Health by the Numbers," from NAMI online resources.

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