October 5 - 12, 2014, is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Established in 1990, this week recognizes the millions of Americans dealing with mental health issues as well as the vital work of mental health professionals and advocates.
United Counseling, formerly known as United Methodist Pastoral Care and Counseling, Inc., has provided quality, faith-based, professional counseling to the people of North Alabama for more than 40 years.
It was 3 a.m. when I was awakened by something. I realized the noise was the phone ringing.
“Hello. I am a police officer in Kosciusko, Mississippi.”
“Is this person speaking English, and what is a Kosciusko?” I wonder. I shake the cobwebs out of my head.
“We have detained your mother in our town, about three hours past Tuscaloosa. You will need to retrieve her. She has been driving in circles around our town for three days. And bring someone to retrieve her car.”
I knew this day would come. Mother had been slipping down the slope. But until I could legally prove that she was a danger to herself or others, there was nothing I could do. With this phone call, I had legal proof. But what now? Who do I call? The round trip takes twelve hours, and then what?
The next morning, I called United Counseling, a ministry of the North Alabama Conference. The United Counseling team, led by Rev. Sheri Ferguson, determined that I had to have my mother walk voluntarily into UAB Emergency Room (and only UAB because it was the only hospital with psychiatric beds available that day) and request a physical evaluation. If the doctors determined she was dangerous, then there would be legal standing to get her help against her will.
It was one of the longest days of my life, but I was not alone. As a pastor, I am often the person that gets the call for help and wisdom, but I was grateful for a connectional structure that was there for me.
It was not the last time that United Counseling was there for me. When I knew my appointment would change, but I did not know what kind of role to seek next, I received coaching. When my family needed help adjusting with the move, we received counseling. And about once a week, when the needs of parishioners exceed my ability or time limits, United Counseling is my first line of referral.
Five years later, after six months of psychiatric hospitalization, my mother receives love and care living with my very patient family. And I am blessed to give back by serving on the Board of Directors for United Counseling, currently as Chair of Finance. But most of all, I am glad that all of us can receive support the next time that dreaded phone call comes.
If you would like to partner with us, either as a client needing assistance, or helping us as we minister to pastors, church staff, families, and disaster survivors, you can find more information or contribute at www.unitedcounseling.org.
Rev. Dr. Kipp McClurg
Associate Pastor for Spiritual Formation
Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church