The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 27, 2010

NAMI awareness week strives to remove stigma of mental illness

— It’s estimated that one in four adults, about 57 million Americans, experience a mental health disorder at some point in their life.

To raise awareness, the Cambria County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will hold its annual Mental Illness Awareness Week from Sunday through Friday, Oct. 8.

“I do see some changes, but I also get reminded every day what a long way we have to go, so it’s important to talk about mental illness because it affects everyone it touches and also affects entire communities in ways that might not even be known,” said Wendy Stewart, the local NAMI executive director.

A candlelight ceremony, “Spark the Conversation, Ignite the Change!” will begin the observance Sunday at the Heritage Discovery Center in Johns-town’s Cambria City section. The idea is to bring residents together for an evening of socialization and education. The ceremony will be presented by the NAMI Drop-In Center and includes music and refreshments.

On Monday, PBS program panelists will present “Minds on the Edge: Facing Mental Illness,” which offers hypothetical situations playing out every day in local communities as people struggle with dilemmas around serious mental illness. It will be held in the Holiday Inn downtown.

“This is a broadcast made for communities to view together and be an eye-opener as to what is happening on our city streets, schools, courtrooms and jails and how people are cycling through these systems,” Stewart said.

The presentation will be followed by a discussion with local panelists: Cambria County Judge Linda Fleming; Dr. Tejas Patel, behavioral medicine, Memorial Medical Center; Johns-town police Chief Craig Foust; and Dr. Mark Fuller, medical director, Value Behavioral Health.

The award-winning film “Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia” will be shown Tuesday in the Johnstown Flood Museum’s theater. Filmmaker Dr. Delaney Ruston will speak to the crowd via Skype about her journey to reconnect with her father after 10 years and coping with his mental illness.

A highlight of the week will be on Wednesday when authors Gina Gallagher and Patti Konjoian present the humorous “Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid!: A Survival Guide for Ordinary Parents of Special Children” during a breakfast at the City View Bar & Grill in Westmont.

“These mothers become frustrated hearing about other people’s kids being in the gifted classes while a major event in their lives was seeing their child sit through a whole day of school, so they wrote this book because they needed to brag and celebrate the successes in their kid’s lives,” Stewart said.

The week will wrap up Friday in the Holiday Inn ballroom with the presentation Choices in Recovery: “Relapse Awareness and Reduction Strategies,” an educational session to help sufferers, caregivers and family members understand relapse in schizophrenia.

Stewart said the week’s goal is to get people talking and get the words “mental illness” out of the closet.

“Once we acknowledge its existence, we can talk about mental illness as something that isn’t shameful and we can get rid of the stigmas,” she said.

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