Spotlight on mental health
- Published: July 24, 2014
In the year since police fatally shot a 42-year-old mentally ill man during a standoff at his North High Street home, a group of villagers has turned this tragedy into an opportunity to help residents living with mental illness.
Formed in the wake of Paul E. Schenck’s death in an exchange of gunfire with police, the Yellow Springs affiliate of the National Association of Mental Illness, or NAMI, runs weekly support groups for those with mental illness and biweekly groups for their family members and friends.
Next week, close to the one-year anniversary of the Schenck shootout on July 30–31, 2013, NAMI Yellow Springs will host representatives from NAMI Ohio as part of the statewide group’s bus tour to break the stigma associated with mental illness.
According to Katie Dillon of NAMI Ohio, 2.9 million Ohioans are affected by mental illness — about one in four residents — many who are in denial about their disease or face a fear of discrimination that prevents them from seeking help.
“As an individual with a mental illness, you have to come to terms that you want help and because of the stigma associated with mental illness people want to keep it a secret,” Dillon said.
The “NAMImobile” will be at the downtown Village BP at 4 Xenia Ave. (U.S. 68) and Corry Street, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 22. There Dillon and representatives from NAMI Ohio, NAMI Yellow Springs, NAMI Greene County and the regional Mental Health Recovery Board will answer questions about mental illness and share resources.
“We’re not going to diagnose anyone, but we can share the symptoms and warning signs of mental illness and tell them how to seek help for themselves or others,” Dillon said.
Phrases painted on the NAMI bus, like “See the person not the label” and “Mental illness is a disorder of the brain,” along with informational NAMI displays and brochures, are messages of a statewide educational campaign to visit more than 100 communities in order to dispel myths about mental illness, Dillon said. Some misunderstandings are that those with mental illness are violent and that it is not a disease.
However, mental illness is no different than a disease like diabetes or cancer, says NAMI Yellow Springs facilitator Donna Sorrell, in that they all take a physical form. When it comes to mental illness, the problem stems from imbalances in the brain, but the belief that the disease is all in people’s “heads” can make a mentally ill person feel ashamed or embarrassed to come forward for help, she said.
“We have a disease but you can’t see it — it’s inside of us,” said Sorrell, who has bipolar disorder. “People need to realize that, and that we have feelings and we want a future for ourselves.”
In Yellow Springs, the police standoff and fatal shooting of Schenck caused shockwaves in the community among both those with mental illness and those close to them, NAMI leaders said. The event, during which 191 shots were fired by Schenck and six by police, triggered flashbacks in some nearby neighbors with post traumatic stress disorder who thought they were back in a battle zone, while it caused alarm for residents struggling with other mental illnesses in their own lives or in families, NAMI leaders said.
Sorrell, along with fellow resident Julie Moore, responded to the shooting by founding Yellow Springs Mental Health Support Group, now NAMI Yellow Springs.
Local support groups started last September and have grown in the number of attendees and depth of participation. A peer group for those with mental illness meets every Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the John Bryan Community Center rooms A and B. A group for family members and friends of those with mental illness meets the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Yellow Springs Senior Center great room. NAMI-trained facilitators lead both meetings, which are confidential and free of charge.
NAMI Connection, the peer support group Sorrell leads, is for those struggling with PTSD, depression, borderline personality disorder, psycho-affective disorder, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses and is a place to share coping strategies or just be heard without judgment, Sorrell said. She said the group is not a replacement for one-on-one therapy, group therapy or medication, but a way to engender camaraderie among those facing similar situations.
The support group for family and friends of those with mental illness is led by Kathryn Hitchcock and Kathy Adams, who both have family members with mental illness. Adams summarized the group as about “learning what the illness is and how to best help your loved one.” Adams found a “huge learning curve” in trying to understand the confusing mental health system and is grateful that “group wisdom” can help point people in the right direction.
Above all, both groups aim to offer hope to people who often feel hopeless, NAMI leaders said.
“You see different people in different points of recovery and it gives you hope,” Adams said. “Maybe they are 20 years down the road.”
Added Sorrell of her peer group: “Our goal is to provide hope that there can be a realistic future for the better, and that means so much because when you are in the depths of depression … you can’t see how you will get through the next hour.”
The NAMImobile will later make a stop at Antioch College to share information with students and staff in hopes of stemming judgments about mental illness before they are developed, Dillon said.
NAMI, which is also a legislative advocacy organization, was formed in 1979 by two mothers of schizophrenic sons who were upset with the lack of services available to their children and were tired of being blamed for their condition, according to a NAMI history document. NAMI Ohio lobbies at the statehouse for better mental health regulations while offering community training for police officers, family members and support group facilitators to improve the way they deal with mental illness.
In May, the Yellow Springs Human Relations Commission and NAMI Yellow Springs raised $1,550 by raffling off a custom-designed rain barrel, money which will help cover the costs of a Mental Health First Aid training in the village. That eight-hour course designed by the National Council for Behavioral Health teaches how to help someone having a mental health crisis and how to identify and respond to signs of addiction and mental illness.
For more information about the Mental Health First Aid training, contact the Human Relations Commission and for more on local NAMI support groups, contact organizers by email at [email protected] or [email protected] or call 937-767-8622.