Mental illness: Community has role in recovery

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 5, 2011

By Glenda Smith
For the Salisbury Post
Last October, I wrote an article for the Salisbury Post about my road to recovery from mental illness. Iíll briefly recap my story: Following the tragedy of my sisterís apparent suicide on March 2, 2006, my mind began to increasingly ěhave a mind of its own.î My emotions began to control me, rather than me controlling them.
During the next eight months, my days alternated between mania and depression. Neither time, fortitude nor faith provided substantial or lasting healing. For me, professional help became necessary. In October 2006, I finally learned that my suffering bore a name, bipolar disorder, with its alternating highs and lows. My diagnosis provided a glimmer of hope for the future. Thus, my road to recovery began.
As with anyoneís life, there are ups and downs. But Iím happy to report I continue to be in recovery. Steps along the way include regular psychiatric care, taking my medicines faithfully, associating with positive people and engaging in fun and meaningful activities. I continue to educate myself through workshops, training and the programs offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Rowan and other groups. I am also co-facilitating a NAMI Connections support group in Davie County (starting date is Oct. 11, at Hillsdale Baptist Church on Hwy 158; for information contact me via the email at the end of this article).
As a retired educator and concerned citizen, I strongly believe schools should include instruction regarding the brain, brain disorders and psychology. Some aspect of mental health is appropriate for every grade. The loss of even one life is unacceptable if education, understanding and support can help in prevention. During my 30 years in education, suicides occurred from the fifth grade through high school. Most recently, a 20-year-old woman who lived nearby took her life. These tragedies should motivate us all to reach out in every possible way and use every means available to prevent further losses.
Perhaps churches, civic groups and other organizations could educate their members about brain disorders, treatment and support for victims. This summer, I had a lengthy conversation with the pastor of a large congregation in Winston-Salem. As I shared my concerns about some membersí lack of knowledge and sensitivity regarding mental illness, the minister said that three members of that church had committed suicide within the past year. Perhaps education, understanding and compassion could help prevent such tragedies. An ounce of prevention might prevent a pound of pain and sorrow.
On a more positive note, First Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem hosts a Bipolar and Related Disorders Support Group. For more information about this ministry, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, contact the church at 336-723-1621.
What Iíve learned in the past five years has made me more empathetic and sympathetic to each individualís situation. Everyone has a unique story. When I have been privileged to listen to othersí stories, the common factor among all was suffering. I use the word privileged because whenever people share their stories, they are exposing themselves. Many recount the pain, confusion, guilt, humiliation, discrimination and/or embarrassment from their past. However, sharing can be beneficial by shedding some of the suffering.
Some people consider themselves immune to mental illness. Although some brain disorders are linked to genetics, many are not. One friendís mental disorder began after she took an antibiotic. Anotherís was triggered by Lyme disease. Abuse, combat, accidents or other traumas may lead to a brain disorder. No one is guaranteed immunity from a brain disorder. Statistics indicate one in four Americans experience mental illness or substance abuse. Moreover, much substance abuse can be attributed to a mental disorder.
If ignorance, discrimination and judgment can ever be replaced with education, understanding and compassion, then perhaps society can banish the stigma against those with mental illness. This could pave the way for not just a road, but a super highway of recovery in this country.

Glenda B. Smith is a retired educator who lives in Davie County. Contact her via email at connect2glenda@