As the Executive Director of Mental Health America of Aiken County, I seek ways daily to strengthen our mission of promoting positive mental health.


When most people think of mental health, they may think negatively, awkwardly or just feel ill-equipped to understand how our mental health affects us all. As a result of this lack of understanding or stigma, it can be difficult to raise awareness and share with the community all of the resources and support we provide.


However, an event this past Sunday evening was positive, informative and most importantly, encouraging.


Several months ago, I was approached by Jimi Whitesell, the youth minister at St. John’s United Methodist Church, to discuss ways to help youth deal with pressures and emotional struggles.


Whitesell was especially concerned with the fact that many youths know someone or they themselves have thought about suicide.


Susan Mabry, a friend and true advocate for young people, told him that I may be able to help. After going over several presentations we could provide, we decided to bring in a dynamic speaker; Gracelyn Elmendorf, whose message is one of hope.


A group of more than 200 teenagers from churches all over Aiken County heard her gripping story of hope.


Teenagers, parents, ministry leaders and guests were captivated by Elmendorf’s story of the loss of her husband and then, her teenage son, to suicide. The evening included open dialogue with questions and answers, with professionals responding to parents’ and teenagers’ concerns. Resource packets were provided by our agency for everyone in attendance.


A strong message of love through an empowering vocal performance capped off the presentation. Through a closing prayer, the Rev. George Howle assured the teenagers of their value and of God’s love for them. He encouraged us all to embrace the hope demonstrated through Elmendorf’s story and to care even more deeply for each other.


Before leaving, I thanked Howle for his courageous act of allowing such an important event to be held.


I especially applaud the youths of St. John’s UMC who led the audience in an inspiring welcome through song.


Thank you to everyone who helped in the preparation of pizza, homemade cookies and lemonade, and for the youths who welcomed guests from other churches and stayed behind to clean the gym.


Thank you to each youth leader for setting aside your usual Sunday evening plans to accompany your teens to this event. In doing this, you assured each teen of their importance in your eyes. Most importantly, thank you to Whitesell and Mabry for having the courage to care. Your courage and response to teens through this event has certainly impacted many lives. Thank you for helping Mental Health America of Aiken County promote positive mental health.


For those who may be interested in the resources provided at this event, please visit our website at www.mha-aiken.org and go to our Education and Advocacy page. You may also call 641-4164 to learn more about the resources and supports we provide.


Lisa Tindal is the Executive Director for Mental Health America Aiken County