Mental health is no longer an illness to be hidden and whispered about-efforts are proceeding to freely help Red Lodge locals with mental health issues beyond clinical assistance, reported Dan Dutton, Bridger. “We are working to form a mental health support group in Red Lodge,” announced Dutton. An educated and caring public can provide great support in aiding individuals to heal, function in and contribute to society.
Experience shows support works. Mental illness is not a rare occurrence; it affects everyone. Nearly 60 million Americans experience a mental health condition every year. Regardless of race, age, religion or economic status, mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children across the United States. It can affect families, employment, the workplace and the economy. If you think it’s only for adults, think again. The 2004 study (commissioned by President George W. Bush) by the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health states: “One in five young people have one or more mental, emotional, or behavioral challenges. One in ten youth have challenges that are severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or in the community.” Clementine Lindley, Director of the nonprofit corporation, NAMI Billings (National Alliance On Mental Illness), will assist locals in developing the mental health support group in Red Lodge. “We are moving exponentially,” she said. “I was hired in February.
We have set up the adult program for three support groups, one will be set up in Red Lodge. We already have two in Billings.” Her goal is to set up a family support group in the county in about a year. They are starting a youth support group in Billings in November. Lindley said mental health issues cut a wide swath across Montana. “One in five in Montana are affected-it could be a consumer, or the mother, father, brother, aunt, uncle. It affects the economy.” She wants to bring such issues out of the darkness and get rid of the stigma. Without the stigma, people are free to seek treatment without fear of censure or repercussions. People receive understanding instead of judgment. Her goal is not necessarily to make people employable. She is realistic. “It is not about getting someone in the workplace,” she said regarding any assumption that the goal is independence. “Some people may be more productive in society if they do not have a job.” She reflected, “There are probably many with mental health issues that do more for their communities than those who have jobs.” NAMI, the national affiliate of the local nonprofit, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. It is dedicated to building better lives for the millions affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research. NAMI states it is committed to raising awareness and building a community for hope for all of those in need. Assisting locals in developing their own support programs is an important function of the organization.
NAMI is the foundation for hundreds of NAMI State Organizations, NAMI Affiliates and volunteer leaders who work in local communities across the country to raise awareness and provide essential and free education, advocacy and support group programs. They send people to assist and then locals are trained to carry on. The program will be initiated with a community meeting to educate people about a local mental health support group. NAMI explains its crucial purpose in helping locals develop extended services: “People living with mental illness need help and hope: they need a community that supports them, their families and their recovery. Because mental illness devastates the lives of many Americans. NAMI says it works to save every life. Lindley explains that it is important that youths with mental health issues be brought up to see themselves positively. “I know kids today who are bipolar but not taught that mental health issues are bad. They have no problem. If questioned they feel, ‘Yes, I’m like this; I’m bipolar, so get over it.’” They refuse the stigma and have a healthy self-concept. This is the future she works to create for those with mental issues. Having support groups where they see others dealing with similar issues and where they can talk about their personal challenges without judgment is an important step for an individual even with ongoing therapy. By attending a public support group individuals are no longer isolated and are encouraged to share.
The community in turn learns that these individuals are important and are a part of our society. Lindley said some of the most brilliant people had mental health issues. “Abraham Lincoln, Vincent Van Gogh. Many celebrities have mental health issues: Catherine Zeta-Jones is bipolar; Jessica Alba has obsessive-compulsive disorder. So many are successful.” Even Albert Einstein was criticized as a slow learner of verbal skills in a recent biography and his son Edward had mental health issues. In fact, such individuals may be extremely intelligent.
Lindley is concerned about youths who may become polarized because they are misunderstood or untreated. “They can be labeled ‘problem kids’ or dismissed as dumb. They are some of the smartest kids in class!” Fifty percent of such youths have substance abuse issues. Many times they are our most sensitive and gifted. It can be a mistaken way of coping. Drugs and alcohol numb a youth’s feelings instead of providing tools to get beyond labels and live a meaningful life. Lindley believes there are many reasons to be hopeful and see a positive future for individuals with mental health issues. “It’s not doom and gloom to get a diagnosis-it’s what you do with it!” There will be an In Our Own Voice presentation, a community outreach presentation, on October 24, in the evening at a location yet to be determined and the community is invited. The support group will only be for those who are dealing with mental illness personally. There will be 2 facilitators at every meeting. The first group could be held as early as November 7. Stay posted to CCN for further updates regarding locations and meeting dates.