Faith, Disability and Mental Health: Faith Leaders Forum

tags: Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities

The Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD) hosted its first Faith Leaders Forum on May 7. More than 30 faith-based community leaders from across Maryland engaged in a real-time, interactive, virtual learning collaborative to increase their awareness of the challenges faced by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and mental illness. The forum also focused on teaching participants how they can help address those challenges and the stigma associated with mental illness and disability.

Participants learned how to create a more inclusive environment for individuals with disabilities and their families in their faith communities, and how to identify those at risk and facilitate their referral to mental health services. Mirian Ofonedu, PhD, LCSW-C, MCDD director of training, led attendees through a presentation that described what is known about faith, spirituality and health among people with IDD and other disabilities.

The presentation was followed by a panel discussion that included parents of children with disabilities and mental health issues, individuals with disabilities, and faith community leaders. All panel participants shared their experiences engaging with their faith communities and their efforts to create a more inclusive community. Panel participants included Crystal Stephens, a member of People On the Go Maryland (POG), and Tami Goldsmith, POG’s self-advocacy program coordinator.

The MCDD plans to continue its work in this arena by inviting faith leaders to participate in its Faith Community Learning Collaborative, which creates opportunity for collaborative exchange, disability etiquette training, and a shared reflection that strengthens knowledge and skills related to inclusive practice. Ten faith leaders from across Maryland have agreed to join the collaborative. Contact Dr. Ofonedu at to learn more.