Editorial: Walk with, give hug to those living with mental illness

Posted Online: Sept. 01, 2014, 11:00 pm
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
They sometimes are called "no-casserole diseases."

Mental illnesses impact those who live with them and the families who love them every bit as profoundly as cancers and other serious, but more socially acceptable, diagnoses. Yet rarely does a friend or relative drop by the house with a heaping pan of lasagna or a fragrant tuna noodle casserole or even a simple hug of comfort for a family struggling with a mental illness.

Besides those missing casseroles, another thing mental illness lacks is an effective PR campaign. Sometimes the struggles of those living with the disease are front-page news; for example, the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. Or the very rare but headline grabbing instances when a person diagnosed with a mental illness and armed with a gun, turns violent.

But those instances do little in the long-term to energize the public or to educate them about the needs of the mentally ill or their families.

Indeed, despite years of efforts to spread the word that such diseases as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and clinical depression are highly treatable and, yes, nobody's fault, victims still hide in the shadows; their families are forced there, too, doubly victimized because they must watch a loved one struggle even as they themselves go without assistance from a mental health system not designed to support families.

It is those people the volunteers and supporters of the National Alliance for Mental illness help. Members of the NAMI Greater Mississippi Valley visited our editorial board last week to spread the word about what they do, to promote their 11th annual fundraising NAMIWalk on Sept. 13, and to talk about their efforts to greatly expand NAMI's reach across six counties and both sides of the river.

The agency had served Scott County for 34 years. Now it is working to also provide help and hope to families in Mercer, Henry and Rock Island Counties in Illinois and Muscatine and Clinton counties in Iowa. The mission: "Education. Advocacy. Support."

It does that through such education services as Family-to-Family classes for family members who have a loved one living with mental illness, Peer-to-Peer recovery education courses for individuals living with mental illness and NAMI Basics, for families of children and adolescents living with mental illness.

Remarkably, those are the kinds of services families which desperately need them often cannot find through traditional channels. Yet, as Ann Held, a Modern Woodmen employee and NAMI Family-to-Family educator, told us, contact with others who share the same experiences and can offer guidance and support is crucial for those who must navigate the tough paths such diseases take them on. She would know. Like all the Family-to-Family instructors, she has loved ones living with mental illnesses. She knows firsthand what it's like not to get that casserole or a kind word from someone who understands what it is you're going through and wants to help.

Michael Freda does, too, and he wants to do his part to ensure that more people get the help they need to keep their loved ones on the path of recovery. The retired director of operations at Robert Young Center and NAMI board president, is volunteering his considerable talents and energies to make NAMI's expansion a success. But to do so he needs the community's help.

That includes financial assistance. Though all of NAMI's programs are free, the cost of providing them is not. The agency has received grants from Doris & Victor Day Foundation and the Moline Foundation to begin community outreach in Rock Island County, but more is needed if NAMI is to help all who need it throughout the area.

One way to do that is to take part in Sept. 13's NAMIWalks at 10 a.m. at Davenport's Centennial Park. Registration opens at 9 a.m. and the walk steps off at 10 a.m. For more, contact 563-322-8870 or visit namiwalks.org/greatermississippivalley to sign up to be a captain or to join a team. Even if you can't walk, consider being an event sponsor or making a donation.

Money isn't the only thing our neighbors at NAMI need, however. It's looking for folks with a passion to help and the time to do it. That includes bringing your expertise to the chapter's board; for example, they're looking for Illinois-side members such as clergy to serve the unpaid, hard-working board. But a wide variety of skills is needed, so if you've been interested in sharing what your good at someplace where it will do a great deal of good, give NAMI a call.

Consider it the equivalent of that long overdue hug and a casserole delivered to the scores of Quad-Citians desperately in need of both.


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.

(More History)