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Stopping the stigma

A Sunday candlelight vigil in Edmond is part of a larger effort to raise awareness of mental illness in Oklahoma.

Tim Farley October 3rd, 2012

Madinah Hazim-Adams was devastated when her mother died of a heart attack in 2010. She was so despondent that her world began to fall apart.

Madinah Hazim-Adams and David Gordon
Credit: Mark Hancock

“I didn’t do anything productive for a year,” she recalled. “I started doing a lot of unhealthy things like drinking and smoking marijuana.”

She knew what was happening but couldn’t do anything to stop it. Hazim-Adams had been through a similar experience a decade earlier. In 2000, she was injured while running track for the University of Kansas and had to quit the team.

“I had [track] taken away from me and it triggered my first bout of depression,” she said. She sought treatment and was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder.

It took almost a year and lots of support before Hazim-Adams recovered from the depression following her mother’s death. Now she is a case manager and recovery support specialist at North Rock Medication Clinic in Oklahoma City.

“I’m the face of recovery and hope,” she said. “I’m married, working full-time and I’m able to give other people hope.”

She said that people who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses must remain vigilant about treatment to stay well.

“You have to stay active, take your medicines and realize that life always happens,” Hazim-Adams said. “If you don’t exercise and you stop taking your meds, it will happen all over again. It’s just like a heart patient who must take his meds, exercise and change his diet.”

Finding help
Many people have had experiences like Hazim-Adams.

Bobby first became ill when he was overseas. The young man, who asked that his real name not be used, suffered an episode of mania and psychosis while he was traveling far from family, friends and any kind of support.

Bobby was admitted to a psychi-atric ward where he stayed for about a month.

“I was under some stress and it just happened,” he said. “It took two years for me to stabilize, but I was able to go back to school and graduated with my MBA.”

Like Hazim-Adams, Bobby faithfully took his medication and began running. He enjoyed it so much he started a full-scale training regimen and later competed in several marathons.

As part of his recovery, Bobby joined the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

“That group saved my life,” he said. “I was so sick when I went in, I couldn’t sit for the entire one-hour meeting. There were things I could share with them that I couldn’t share with others. A lot of them had been in worse conditions that myself. Without that support, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Awareness and action
To promote a healthier lifestyle and encourage participation in mental health programs, Hazim-Adams and other Oklahoma mental health professionals will gather for a candlelight vigil 7 p.m. Sunday at Edmond’s Hafer Park, at Ninth and Bryant.

Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will make brief comments, followed by music and testimonials. Hazim-Adams will tell her story. At the end of the program, names of mentally ill people who took their own lives will be read aloud and the candles will be lighted.

The event comes less than two weeks after a 13-year-old Stillwater boy, Cade Poulos, took his own life at school shortly before the beginning of class on Sept 26. Suicide is a particular concern in Oklahoma, where it is the second-leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 to 24. Overall, the state’s suicide rate is 31 percent higher than the national average.

The vigil marks the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week, which is designed to promote hope and recovery for people who suffer from mental illness, said J. David Gordon, executive director for Oklahoma’s National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Other activities during the week include an Interfaith Day of Prayer at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the State Capitol; a NAMI Champions for Change Luncheon on Thursday, Oct. 11; and an “Ask the Doctor” session on 2 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, at at St. Anthony’s Behavioral Medicine Center.

The main goal of the week’s events is to draw special attention to mental illness and emphasize it as a funding priority to state lawmakers.

Unfortunately, Gordon said, mental illness is often considered less important than other illnesses, but it is just as prevalent as heart disease or diabetes.

“We still live in a world where it’s OK to say you have diabetes or heart disease, but you better not say you suffer from mental illness,” he said. “There’s still a stigma to it and it’s not understood by most people. We need to make it OK to talk about it.”

Public misconceptions and bad advice often prevent mentally ill people from seeking help.

“You hear a lot of people say, ‘Just snap out of it,” Gordon said. “You don’t tell people with diabetes or epilepsy to snap out of it, or just get better or pray more. We want people to feel empowered and to be the experts on themselves. It’s about meeting people with compassion and providing them with the resources and programs that will help them get better.”

Some facts about mental illness

—In Oklahoma, mental disorders are the third leading cause of chronic disease, behind pulmonary conditions and hypertension.

—Oklahoma ranks second nationally for serious psychological distress in the adult population.

—70 percent of Oklahomans needing treatment for a serious mental illness and 77 percent of adults in need of substance abuse treatment are not receiving appropriate care.

—The state mental health department’s budget has been slashed more than $25 million during the past two years.

—For employers, mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorders are the second leading cause of workplace absenteeism. Major depression accounts for 48 percent of all worker-lost productivity.

—In Oklahoma, it’s estimated that employers spend more than $600 million annually in additional medical costs for the 200,000 workers who abuse alcohol or deal with the effects of depression.

Source: FY 2012 budget request from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

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