UM minister urges mental health education

At 23, Dan Magrini was a brilliant student, had lots of friends, a supportive, caring family and was starting college at the school of his choice in a field he loved, creative writing.

He had struggled with migraines that started around the sixth grade. When the migraines got worse in high school, his mother took him to a neurologist and he started receiving treatment that made them manageable.

Ministry to people who suffer from mental illnesses is often challenging. But those who lead the effort say it’s essential for Christians to be educated about mental health, and to then reach out. 2013 DESIGN PICS PHOTO

He was also diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder but was seeing therapists and specialists that “he just clicked with,” said his mother, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Magrini, a United Methodist deacon in the Chicago area. She also suffers from migraines and bipolar disorder.

In his sophomore year, Dan told his parents he needed a semester off from the University of Iowa—a mental health break—and moved home. He started seeing two doctors he trusted, Dr. Corey Goldstein and Dr. Chad Owens at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, and began medication that seemed to change his life. He was also part of an outpatient program for young adults with mood disorders that met daily.

His suicide on June 6, 2011, was a shock to his family, friends and his doctors.

“He was starting to turn around; he made new friends and was planning to return to college. We saw none of this coming,” his mother said. “The next weekend [we were going] . . . to look for apartments in Iowa.

“My husband says that just shows the insidiousness . . . it is horrific. That deep depression is always there. That is what is so difficult for people to understand. There is no cure. Even when a person is feeling better, when life is on track, it’s still there.”

New ministry

Since her son’s death, Dr. Magrini is working to educate people on the causes of depression and bipolar disorder and to fight the stigma, fear and misunderstanding often associated with a diagnosis of a mental illness.

Her family, husband Pete and son John, started a chapter of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance which meets at First UMC at Chicago Temple. In 2011, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung affirmed her appointment as president of the DBSA Chicago Loop chapter. She is also a peer-to-peer certified specialist of the national DBSA organization and her doctorate degree is in Christian education and congregational development from United Methodist-affiliated Garrett-Evangelical Seminary.

Cheryl Magrini

The 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, approved a resolution stating God’s love for people with mental disabilities.

“A large part of the ministry of our Lord focused on persons with mental disabilities,” the UMC’s 2012 Book of Resolutions (Paragraph 3301) states. “Such persons are children of God and, therefore, our brothers and sisters within God’s family. The full and equal rights of persons with mental disabilities are enshrined in the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.”

Seed planting

On May 3-4, Dr. Magrini led a pilot program offering two days of intensive training in mental health ministries for the Northern Illinois Conference. The workshop offered training for Mental Health First Aid USA and the Caring Congregations Ministry.

The Caring Congregations Ministry was developed by the founder of Mental Health Ministries (MHM), the Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder of San Diego. She developed Caring Congregations in consultation with the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of Alcohol, Other Addictions & Health Care at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

Mental Health First Aid USA is managed, operated and disseminated by three organizations: the National Council for Community Behavioral Health Care, the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Dr. Magrini hopes this pilot program will be “seed planting” for other United Methodist conferences and churches.

The denomination’s Boards of Church and Society and Global Ministries have created a new resource for local congregations to observe Mental Health Awareness Month in May. The bulletin insert, “Faith & Mental Health—Creating Caring & Sharing Communities,” is available free as a download (

Watch for signs

The Magrini family has taken on a mission of education and awareness around mood disorders, particularly bipolar disorder, with young adults.

Dr. Magrini wants young people and their parents to know “there is no shame in going to see a psychologist.” Parents play such an important role, she said.

It is often hard to detect signs of bipolar disorder in teens because they are naturally going through so many changes.

She said her son Dan had many friends, was always smiling and was a straight-A student. Some of the troubling signs she detected in him were reluctance to go to school and sudden failing grades. But through it all, he was always willing and wanted to get help, she said.

Dr. Magrini said her faith is helping her cope and learn to be happy again.

“Parents, don’t feel like you failed because you are doing the best a parent can do. But you need to be on top of this, do everything you can to get your [child] to cooperate.”

The Magrini family was featured in three broadcasts by the Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries’ Different Drummers television program. To view the segments online, go to, and


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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friar pat

Thank you for the insightful article Ms. Gilbert!!! Sadly most of us who experience mental health issues in the Church are treated to silence, disdain, and little understanding. At least that has been my experience as an Elder (Diagnosed with Clinical Depression) with 28 years in ministry. But I have solved the problem for my superiors by taking early retirement. Now I will no longer be a problem for the Bishop!!!

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