By Darla Kvidera
In the past couple of weeks the local newspaper has written about two separate tragedies, one headlined on the front page regarding the Navy Yard shooter "who heard voices," and another young man given much less significance toward the back who apparently committed suicide. These stories are connected by the underlining theme of mental illness, but don't begin to tell the full stories of either person.
Both men had a given name, but "the Navy Yard shooter" will forever be known nationally by that description, and the other young man will not be acknowledged other than locally by the family and friends who loved him. Even politicians are not capitalizing on gun control issues this time around, but judging by news reports are distancing themselves from it, one saying that it was, after all, a mental health issue.
Really, he acknowledged that it's a mental health issue. In all of the uproar over the mass killings this nation has experienced that's the most astute response ever put forth, and yet it will get the least attention. More attention to mental health issues is WELCOMED by the one in two families affected by mental illness, who are out there advocating for treatment and medication for their loved ones. Bring it on! Adding the necessary funding for research, support and education for mental illness would only be the best, right thing that ever happened, and would guarantee that everyone who needs it would get the help they seek.
The other common denominator in these two stories, provided the diagnosis of mental illness is correct in both instances is this — both of them were genuinely ill, and the behaviors that they exhibited prior to their deaths were the result of a brain disorder. No one makes the decision to become mentally ill, no child wakes up in the morning and says, "Today is the day I will choose to make my life more difficult." No college student makes the decision that he or she will sabotage a brilliant career with schizophrenia, which is often diagnosed during that stage of their life, ages 18-24. Authenticity of diagnosis should no longer be part of the mental health issue, research has proven that. Statistics validate it ... for instance, the Department of Health and Human Resources states that 57.7 million Americans experience a mental health disorder in a given year; 1 in 17 lives with a serious illness such as bipolar disorder; and 1 in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. The bigger issue is educating the public, continuing the open dialogue out there now regarding mental illness, and giving the issue the importance it deserves.
In order to continue to make progress and to change the current outcomes too common to the problem, which are too often suicide and violence, first the stigma attached to mental illness has to be removed. Funding for research must be increased proportionate to other illnesses, and treatment and medication must become more available to those who through no choice of their own can't afford it. Advocacy to assist families whose loved ones resist treatment, a symptom of the illness, also needs to be addressed.
The opportunity to further increase awareness of mental health issues and to support local families affected by mental illness is being provided today by the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI Champaign County is having the 2013 NAMI-CC Family Walk and Awareness Day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. Registration is on site and minimal, the park is family friendly, dog-friendly and wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. Bring a picnic lunch. The walk will happen rain or shine!
Darla Kvidera is a Champaign resident who writes about social issues.