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Holladay Journal

Utah Chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness Shares Insight on Growing Issue

May 03, 2019 03:55PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

On Saturday, May 4, NAMI Utah presents its annual “NAMIWalk” at Veterans Memorial Park in West Jordan. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m., and the walk at 10 a.m. (Photo Credit NAMI Utah)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

A pick is set in a neighborhood basketball game. You hedge and follow, then grimace as an opposing player rolls to the basket. Of the 10 players on the court, two, most likely, are suffering from mental illness.

You are listening, eyes closed in absolute serenity, to a summer classical music performance of Anton Bruckner's String Quintet in F major. One of the five musicians likely suffers from mental illness.

And more to everyday life, you are waiting to pick up your child from school. Turning off your engine to wait, you notice five cars in front of you, driven by five neighborhood parents also waiting, to pick up their children… 

Approximately one in five adults across the country experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Doubting the numbers?

Verifiable statistics bump those seemingly dubious numbers even higher. 

According to the World Health Organization, during a 12-month period, 27 percent of American adults will experience some sort of mental health disorder, making the United States the country with the highest prevalence of mental illness.

And here in Utah? According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Utah is the 10
th highest-state with serious mental illness. Utah is particularly challenged with mental illness, explained Dan Powell, community outreach manager for the NAMI Utah, because of real or perceived notions of the necessity for perfection.

“In Utah, [there is] this idea that we can’t let others see that we are imperfect,” Powell said. Or, others may argue, a population unwilling to often accept as “normal” individual choices, in terms of matters of identity and sexuality.

What is to be done?

As with many things, awareness is a start. National Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed since 1949.

“Stigmas and misinformation cause a lot of fear and judgment,” Powell said. “Our goal is to take away that fear and have people have an appropriate understanding of what mental illness is.”

Mental illnesses (MI) are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.

Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, other than a developmental or substance use disorder.

Beyond awareness – ‘walking the walk’

One way NAMI Utah kicks fear is by being a nonprofit employer who practices what it preaches: Powell scrolls through a list of NAMI employees and indicates that nearly three-quarters of the staff have experienced MI themselves or have cared for – or are currently caring for – those with MI or SMI.

Such authentic “walking the walk” is important, Powell said.

“Everything we offer is peer-lead,” he said. “We have people who have walked the walk, speak the language, and understand the feelings – these are the people leading the activities… it makes a big difference.”

NAMI Utah offers a “mentor line” which is staffed by NAMI employees who are either in recovery from MI/SMI or who are caregivers. Trained mentors currently service more than 1,000 calls per month.

Taking it to the streets – the art of ‘grabbing peoples’ hearts'

Powell, himself, walks the walk and brings energy that feels new and fresh to NAMI. Part of Powell’s answer is the new NAMI Utah’s Speakers Bureau.

Nothing short of “grabbing peoples’ hearts” is Powell’s goal.

Allstate in Sandy, Larry H. Miller car dealerships in South Jordan, and the Utah Opera downtown have all benefited from community outreach from NAMI Utah. Local technology company IM Flash/Micron in Lehi has even booked NAMI for monthly presentations for its 1,700 employees.

“We get a lot of requests from the community and want to move beyond statistics and data – to a personal connection,” he said.

Finding one’s own power

Story-telling not only informs others, but is therapeutic for those sharing their stories.

One profound example is the personal growth of a young woman named Brooke Searle. 

Searle, who struggled with depression, anxiety, guilt and fear and other emotions as a member of the LGBT community, worked with Powell and then got the courage to be a speaker at February’s “Rally for Recovery” at the Capitol.

The result was, Powell said, profound. “The empowerment from [her] speaking has allowed her, for the first time, to post her art.”

“I knew one day my prints would come,” the playful artist posts on Facebook. 

Emphasis on teen mental health 

Teen mental health is personal for Powell.

The son of an abusive chief of police in Ogden, young Powell felt suicide, versus enduring another day, was his best option. “There were a lot of guns in the home,” he recalled. “I took a shotgun to some nearby dirt fields,” he said and then paused, “My intention was to take a gun and kill myself.”

One of his father’s colleagues happened along, honored the privacy of the situation and took the boy home, without a word to his father. The officer started showing up more often at the home, enrolled young Powell in a summer camp and got him into youth sports. 

Powell wants to help kids see options as early as possible.

“In Herriman, the schools called after the suicides. What we want to do is be more proactive and guide the conversation, before a tragedy, like a suicide, occurs,” he noted.

“Ending the silence” is essential, Powell declared. “The idea is just getting people talking about it – how to be more comfortable having these conversations.”

A quick response

Julia Moncur, like Powell, has struggled with ideas of suicide since age 12.

Key to her staying healthy is her volunteering for NAMI, teaching a six-week course to teens. While teaching, she experienced an “a ha” moment, where the teen taught her more than her schoolwork. In a recent class she taught, there was “an extremely disruptive kid, talking, distracted, clearly some ADHD,” she said. “My co-teacher wanted to have him excused from the class, but I could tell that he wanted to be there and wanted to stick with it a little bit longer.”

Moncur, a 22-year old who just graduated from the University of Utah in psychology and whose goal is to pursue psychology, was spot-on with her hunch. “Charlie’s mom said he would come home after the class and share all that he had learned. I had no idea that he was getting everything out of the class from how he was behaving. This experience showed me it is easy to get frustrated with somebody, when you don’t know their story.”

Kids in need of mental health therapy can be made to wait six months for an opening to surface, said Moncur. NAMI offers a free alternative, where kids can not only repeat the sessions as often as they wish/need, but can have their needs escalated. Moncur said a boy in class “had said some alarming things.” She visited with NAMI’s programs director and got him seen immediately.


NAMI’s Mentor Help Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Safe Utah Smartphone Crisis Text and Tip Line

UNI Mobile Crisis Outreach teams will send a licensed clinical social worker and peer support specialist to home, school or business for anyone struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide. Available 24/7. Confidential and free. 801-587-3000