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Supporters walk for awareness

Mental illnesses carry stigma, advocates say

Advocates and many of the afflicted staged a local rally Saturday to combat what they consider an unfair stigma against those suffering from mental illness.

About 50 people attended the 14th local National Alliance on Mental Illness walk at Lions Park in West Liberty. The group was emphatic about discarding preconceived ideas about mental illnesses. A mentally ill person is not crazy or dangerous, they said; that person is sick.


NAMI Walk participants prepare for a balloon launch Saturday during a mental health awareness event at Lions Park in West Liberty. EXAMINER PHOTO | NATE SMITH

“A person with a mental illness is still a person,” said Bill Heitman of Urbana, who attended the walk. “Too many people forget that we’re dealing with real people.”

Many of those people were on hand Saturday and they wanted to be heard. A handful of participants stood up and identified themselves and their respective mental illness, which ranged from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder and depression.

Mr. Heitman has first-hand knowledge of how a progressive mental illness can affect a person. He’s had two close family members suffer from a form of the disease.

“It tears a person up and changes them completely,” he said.

Mr. Heitman also facilitates a 12-week class at the Mental Health and Drug Alcohol Services agency north of West Liberty, “Better Coping Makes for Better Outcomes,” which is designed for families experiencing the effects of severe brain disorders.

“Think about all the cells and neurons in your brain and how they all have to fire just right in order for everything to work properly,” he said. “All it takes is one or two misfires and a person can be really affected.

“They might hear voices and those voices are as real to them as you and me talking.”

Mentally ill persons are becoming increasingly marginalized and isolated, Mr. Heitman said.

“I’ve seen it happen. A person is ‘normal’ and then gets sick and after they’re diagnosed their friends stop coming around,” he said. “They’re isolated and cast away.

“The gun debate has it all wrong. It’s the mentally ill we should be focusing on.”

In 2012 the Ohio Department of Mental Health provided services to 233,761 adults and 124,021 children, according to an agency report. Approximately 90,000 teens and young adults 14-21 suffer from mental illness.

“Mental illness is everywhere, and there are lots of cases that go undiagnosed,” Mr. Heitman said. “We’re trying to break through the idea there’s something scary or dangerous about those people.”

More on mental illness online,


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