Shaking off the stigma on mental illness
By Theresa Blume
About ten years ago when I was a local speaker promoting a book I had written, someone from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called and asked me to speak. My book was about surviving horrific events and suffering from depression, but I did not relate that to mental illness.
I thought I was depressed because of the bad things that had happened to me. What I did not realize is that mental illness causes one to make bad decisions, which in turn brings about bad situations.
It is this lack of awareness that prevents people with mental illness from getting the help they need. There is also a stigma about mental illness that prevents people from admitting that they or someone in their family might have it.
Mental illness, which makes no distinction among culture, upbringing, race, or financial assets, is really no different than physical illness. In both physical and mental illness, the bearer is not at fault, and with proper treatment there is a possibility of recovery. But in order to be treated, it must be acknowledged.
I was fortunate. My problems were caught early in young adulthood. I had good doctors and therapists and steady support from family, friends, and strangers. It was not easy, but I had a lot of help, which is why I consider the work that NAMI does so important.
Mental illness is defined as a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. NAMI helps people with major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, seasonal depression, and borderline personality disorder. NAMI holds monthly meetings that provide support, offer education and advocacy, promote research, and bring awareness to the local community.
The city of Marshfield is fortunate to have two people who have stepped up to create our own NAMI support group meeting beginning on Nov. 5. Rita Marie Johnson took classes in Madison along with Kristen Akbar, a young mother of two, for the purpose of co-leading this new chapter.
Johnson was introduced to NAMI four years ago through a friend and became a board member on the Wood/Portage County chapter last year. She is the mother of four, grandmother of six, and great grandmother of two. A lifetime resident of Marshfield, she stresses that these meetings are very friendly, non-judgmental, and completely confidential.
Johnson says, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and is no different than any physical illness.” She is currently in training for FAITHNET, a branch of NAMI that enables people to talk to churches.
It took me a while to realize that even though there were no physical characteristics, I had a mental illness that needed treatment, and I am forever grateful to the many caring people like Johnson and Akbar who are willing to give up their time to help hurting strangers so they too can have better lives.
The first NAMI support meeting will be held on Nov. 5 from 6:15-8 p.m. The location is at “A Better Way Clubhouse” on 205 S. Cherry Ave. in Marshfield (next to the Faith Lutheran Church). Attendees are asked to enter through the back entrance. Meetings will be held the first Wednesday of every month at the same time and place. This meeting is considered part of the Portage/Wood County NAMI, which also has a location in Stevens Point.
For more information you can call Rita Marie Johnson at 715-897-5215 or email Kristen Akbar at Kristen.firstname.lastname@example.org.