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SAN BERNARDINO—The Diocese offered its semi-annual Behavioral Health Conference on May 12 via Zoom, covering a number of meaningful topics that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 The conference was attended by 118 participants and many other people participated as it was streamed on the Diocesan YouTube channel. The audience actively participated during the conference as was made evident by the comments and questions which continued all through the sessions in the chat box.

 There were two keynote addresses and two workshops. Every participant had the opportunity to listen to all four presentations.

 Sr. Chilee Okoko, DMMM, Director of the Diocesan Department of Life, Dignity and Justice, who chairs the Diocesan Behavioral Health Conference Planning Committee explained that the events and difficulties of the past year informed the theme of the 2021 DBH Conference, “Searching for Mental/Emotional Equilibrium Amidst Crisis and Pain.”

 “The objective of the conference is to provide awareness, education, information, and hope to the people,” Sr. Chilee said.

 In his welcoming remarks, Bishop Alberto Rojas added, “We are a people of hope. Science alone will never be enough. Ultimately, human beings are redeemed by love.”

 Dr. Matthew Chang, MD, Medical Director of the Riverside University Department of Behavioral Health, presented the first keynote address on the topic “Relating Social and Spiritual challenges to Mental/Emotional Illness.”

 He said the last year has seen a serious increase in people needing professional help relating to the mental/emotional challenges caused by social, financial, medical, and spiritual difficulties. Dr. Chang offered detailed information on the resources available through Riverside County Healthcare System, which addresses social and healthcare needs, since both are interrelated.

 Father Neil McQuillan, C.S.Sp, who holds a doctorate in psychology, offered the next talk, “How everyday encounters and activities affect mental/emotional wellness.”

 “Dealing with stress is a question of balance and equilibrium,” said Fr. McQuillan, who is Pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hemet. “Balance between biological needs, mental, emotional and spiritual needs.”

 He continued, “part of these mental needs is the need of belonging, the need to be loved and cared for. We need people around us who accept us unconditionally, a sense of community.”

 Fr. McQuillan provided guidance and tips on how one could minimize the recurrence of stress, panic attacks and improve on resilience.

 Dr. Melissa Hofstetter who presented on the “Correlation between Spirituality and Mental/Emotional Wellness” informed the participants that research shows spirituality and religion do have a robust benefit to things like physical health and mental health. ‘Religious coping in distress’ occurs when we experience high degrees of stressful experiences, people could draw on their faith and faith context that provide them with social support in the communities.

 “We are not immune to the sadness of others and sometimes we may carry it ourselves,” said Dr. Hofstetter. “In some ways we carry their burdens in addition to our own. We need our human relationships just as much as we need a secure attachment to God.”

 Father Allan Deck, SJ, who presented the second keynote address on the topic, “Finding Hope in the Midst of Crisis and Pain,” reminded listeners that the “mind, body and the soul are both natural and supernatural. They are all influenced by the physical and the spiritual. The three need to be integrated.”

 The conference provided many resources and hope. Sr. Chilee said she looks forward to continuing conversations about mental health at the grassroots level within parish ministries. She said some of the issues raised at this conference will form part of the agenda for the Life, Dignity and Justice Conference in May 2022. The next Behavioral Health Conference will be held in May 2023.