Good Cause: NAMI family program focuses on mental illness
By Michelle Linn-Gust For The Sun February 4, 2013 3:40PM
Angela Adkins of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of DuPage County
At a Glance
What: Michelle Linn-Gust will present a professional lecture sponsored by Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital, “The Rocky Road of Suicide Grief,” which will address the stigma people experience after the suicide of a loved one.
Where: VFW, 119th N. Third St., St. Charles
When: 9 am to noon Feb. 11
To register: Call 630-527-6363
On the web
NAMI offers a range of opportunities for people to help, whether their lives have been affected by mental illness or not. For more information, visit www.namidupage.org
Updated: March 7, 2013 6:21AM
Chris, a 60-year-old office worker in Wheaton, knows she isn’t helping the stigma of depression and mental illness by not using her last name for this story.
However, because she is seeking a job, she worries that her history of depression will keep an employer from hiring her.
Clinical psychologist Joe Roszkowski, of Pathways Psychology Services in Winfield, understands that much of this view is related to a lack of education.
“People have a lot of anxiety about something they don’t know a lot about,” he said.
Enter Angela Adkins, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of DuPage County. The organization works to destroy that stigma by putting a face on it.
“This is not the media face, not what is created by the movies in Hollywood,” she said, “but genuine faces of people who live and work in the community (and have mental illness).”
With 1-in-4 individuals impacted at some point in their lives by mental illness and 1-in-17 diagnosed with one, Adkins pointed out that it means 57 million people in the United States have some form of the disease.
“We really try every single day to normalize mental illness,” she said.
Chris’s depression manifested when she was in college in the middle 1970s, a time when the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was released.
The famous movie stars Jack Nicholson and depicts life unpleasantly in a mental institution.
“I never thought of it as a physical illness,” she said.
“I thought it was a character flaw, and I didn’t have the will power to keep going.”
After graduate school, she kept quiet about her pain especially because there wasn’t any openness about depression in the early 1980s.
“No one talked about this,” she said. “There were no commercials for antidepressants.”
Roszkowski, who works mostly with adolescents and families, and also runs a group for adolescent boys, said it’s a fallacy that talking about mental illness and suicide will increase the likelihood of it happening.
“Instead, it prevents a lot of kids from talking openly and of bringing it up,” he said.
This is especially true for boys and males who are not encouraged to talk about their feelings and vulnerabilities.
The reinforcement they get is that it’s weak to do so.
What he has found is that social workers in schools are now more apt to refer kids for resources.
Even since the December school shooting in Connecticut, people are discussing mental illness more than in the past.
“Are they the right conversations?” Adkins asked. “We don’t know yet.”
NAMI’s goal is to put a face on mental illness, and the organization does that with a multi-tiered approach.
It offers a 12-week family-to-family program that educates family members about everything there is to know about mental illness.
There also are support groups for parents, one for those who have children younger than 22, and another for parents with children younger than 18.
The breakdown helps parents who still have children in school learn how to approach teachers and staff to best advocate for their children.
Another component of the organization is giving presentations about mental illness particularly to middle and high schools.
Last year, NAMI reached 12,000 students in DuPage County. It teaches people well into recovery how to tell their stories.
After eight hospitalizations, although Chris was doing well at work, the pressure was too much.
She knew she had to step back and leave her job. Finally, she realized she had to stopping cutting herself (a coping mechanism) and “take suicide off the table” by finding other coping mechanisms.
Today she is more involved in her faith and has found peace in knowing more about her illness.
Ultimately, Adkins said, “there is no cure. It’s how well you live with mental illness.”
By talking about it more, Roszkowski said, “There is a domino effect. It leads to more empowerment for our kids and better overall mental health treatment in society.”