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Megachurch Pastor Unites Faith, Psychology Leaders To Raise Mental Health Awareness

LAKE FOREST ( — A prominent Orange County pastor joined forces with other faith, health and psychology leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to those who suffer from mental illness.

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest convened "The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church" as part of ongoing community outreach efforts following the death of his 27-year-old son, who committed suicide last April amid struggles with severe depression and suicidal thoughts.

The mental health forum on Friday featured 20 interactive workshops covering depression, suicide-risk reduction, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, addictions, and other topics along with speakers addressing the role of church leaders in mental health and crisis management, according to a spokesperson.

All 3,300 seats at the church were sold-out, CBS2's Stacey Butler reported.

"When families have a mental illness crisis, the first person they call is not the school district. And the first person they call is not an attorney. And the first person they call is not even a doctor. The first person they typically call before there is a crisis is they call their church," Warren said.

In addition to Rick and Kay Warren, speakers included Bishop Kevin Vann of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange; Eric Johnson, Ph.D., Lawrence and Charlotte Hoover Professor of Pastoral Care at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies at Baylor University; Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, UC Irvine; and others.

"Integrating the physical, mental, and spiritual aspect is very helpful because people either miss the spiritual aspect or focus too much on the biological," said Luke Maxwell, a suicide attempt survivor.

Warren said the event was aimed at removing the stigma surrounding mental illness following the death of their son, Matthew, who took his life on April 5, 2013, after a lifelong struggle with mental illness.

"One of the things I believe is that God never wastes a hurt and that oftentimes your greatest ministry comes out of your deepest pain," said Warren. "When Kay and I began ministering to people with HIV & AIDS about a dozen years ago, I thought being HIV positive was the greatest taboo. But actually, I think mental illness is and we want to remove the stigma."

RELATED: Rick Warren Returns To Pulpit 16 Weeks After Son's Death

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in four adults — approximately 61.5 million Americans — experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17 —  about 13.6 million — live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.

Warren, who founded Saddleback Church in 1980, is also author of the bestselling "The Purpose Driven Life" and gave the invocation at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration.

Butler said Pastor Warren hopes his partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese in Orange and the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Orange County will create a lasting change throughout the country.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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