Mental health fair goes virtual amid pandemic

Judge Steven Leifman is the keynote speaker at Suntree United Methodist Church's Virtual Mental Health Fair, scheduled via Zoom on Nov. 15. Also speaking are licensed mental health counselors Laura McCarthy and Rayna Houvouras, top and bottom left; licensed marriage and family counselor Stephanie Byrd, top right; and Tonya Dix from Circles of Care.

Zoom into better mental health.

COVID-19 threatens not just our physical health, but also our mental wellbeing. More than 40 percent of respondents to a CDC survey this summer reported issues such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse, representing a major spike in behavioral health problems. 

We need help.

Organizations such as Suntree United Methodist Church are stepping up. Although many churches steer away from mental health ministry, Suntree United Methodist has embraced it with an annual Mental Health Fair.

"Our goal each year is to increase awareness of mental health conditions and mental health needs in Brevard, to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, provide encouragement and guidance for those who need mental health support and care and to advocate for improved mental health care," the Rev. Dr. John Baggett said.

The retired pastor and former state director of mental health in North Carolina currently chairs Suntree UMC’s Mental Health Task Force, which organizes the church’s annual Mental Health Fair, this year held virtually via Zoom.

Suntree United Methodist Church serves a community composed substantially of older adults.

"Seniors are especially vulnerable to mental health conditions, and that is one of the chief reasons the church decided to focus on mental health," added Baggett.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 percent of adults age 60 and older suffer from a mental disorder. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that 17 percent of older adults are affected by alcohol or prescription drug abuse. 

The Virtual Mental Health Fair will provide hope and help for individuals struggling with these challenges. 

On Sunday, Nov. 15, the community can join any or all of the sessions in the free event, which begins with Mental Health Wellness 101 at 1 p.m. Licensed marriage and family therapist Stephanie Byrd and licensed mental health counselor Rayna Houvouras will address common mental health issues and provide strategies for increasing and maintaining mental health wellness, especially during stressful times.  

At 2 p.m., Tonya Dix, vice president of clinical and quality care at Circles of Care, will discuss distinguishing between stress-related mental health problems and mental illness.

Rick Burklew, a therapist and program director with the addiction treatment program Peace Club, will join clinical mental health and addictions professional Laura McCarthy in a 3 p.m. presentation on understanding addiction.

Keynote speaker Judge Steven Leifman’s program on Mental Illness and Criminal Justice begins at 4 p.m. Judge Leifman, who serves as a special advisor on criminal justice and mental health for the Supreme Court of Florida, was the subject of the 2020 PBS documentary, "The Definition of Insanity." The film highlighted the Miami-Dade Mental Health Program model for addressing the current mental health crisis in America.  

To register, go to