Metro-East Living

Worried about your mental health? This group can help.

Why you should take care of your mental health

A.J. French, founder of Gift of Voice, talks about the importance of maintaining positive mental health. She will offer free mental health classes at Eden Church in Edwardsville, IL in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO.
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A.J. French, founder of Gift of Voice, talks about the importance of maintaining positive mental health. She will offer free mental health classes at Eden Church in Edwardsville, IL in southern Illinois near St. Louis, MO.

One in four people have some kind of struggle that prevents them from being as mentally well as they can be, says A.J. French.

To improve those numbers, she has started Gift of Voice, determined to provide free help and care to those in Madison County suffering from anxiety, depression and other conditions.

“Mental health is something everyone has,” she says. “And the loss of a loved one, or a trauma, can impact a person’s health,” French says.

The Gift of Voice will facilitate a 10-week course plus a graduation event starting Feb. 2 to help Madison County residents make action plans to deal with their conditions. The class is at Eden Church, 903 N. Second St., Edwardsville.

The plans – called WRAP, for Wellness Recovery Action Plan – have four parts that founder and facilitator French and co-facilitaor Janet Darmour-Paul will help participants develop. Those parts are identify principles of wellness, finding the strategies to help stay well, making action plans and making a crisis plan.

“The action plan is really the crux of WRAP,” French says.

French says one of her WRAP plans, uniquely for her and in regards to her being a public speaker, include finding peace in what she finds to be stressful places like airports.

“I have to get from Point A to B, I have to fly. ... I know Lambert when it is least populated. When I travel, I will not travel and speak on the same day, so if I need to recover in my hotel room at night, I can.”

Mental health is something everyone has, and the loss of a loved one, or a trauma, can impact a person’s health.

A.J. French, founder of Gift of Voice program at Eden Church in Edwardsville

Eden Church’s pastor, the Rev. John Roberts, says his interest in Gift of Voice was really boosted when he saw a member of his congregation struggling with a mental health issue. Because of the stigma, the member separated somewhat from the church and support found there.

“That really bothered me,” the pastor said. “We couldn’t create a sense (for the member) that my church family is with me on this.”

By providing office space and classroom areas for Gift of Voice, our church “raises the banner that this is something we’re concerned about, we want to ... help people get the footing they need,” Roberts said.

People can use WRAP plans to better deal with postpartum depression, or family issues, grief or anxiety, French said.

A crucial part of the plan is to know what mental wellness looks and feels like, French said, and if the participant isn’t sure he or she ever felt well, then they can look for someone “who embodies wellness, so that they recognize it.”

She also says participants will identify three to five things a person needs to do every day in order to feel well, things as simple as getting enough sleep or spending time with a pet.

Roberts said he has known French about three years, and has enjoyed her presentations to his congregation.

“If a man or a woman is struggling with mental health issues, this is not like a doomsday pronouncement of your life,” Roberts said. “A.J. is a walking example of that.”

At a glance

  • What: Classes to promote mental health start Feb. 2
  • How much: Free
  • Where: Eden Church, 903 N. Second St., Edwardsville
  • When: Starts Feb. 2
  • To join: Call AJ French at 618-792-2049
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