Stopping the stigma 

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.

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.”

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.

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
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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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