Summit County mental-health group seeks to aid those in need
It starts with a casserole.
When someone is critically injured, has a hospital visit for a heart attack or maybe a diagnosis of cancer, often friends and family show up to the home and bring food as a sign of condolence and comfort. The same isn’t typically true of a mental-health disorder — maybe depression, a bipolar episode, perhaps a suicide attempt.
“We call it a no-casserole illness,” said longtime Breckenridge resident Betty Sarber. “People shun you, they don’t come toward you. That is something we’d like to change.”
Sarber knows the feeling all too well, being ostracized and given the cold shoulder by members of the public because of the behavior of her son. She recalls any number of times she’s been at a grocery store or playground and he does something loud or inappropriate. The stares penetrate and the judgment grows.
“Every child behaves, right?” said Sarber. “And it’s difficult as a parent to know when your child’s behavior has crossed that threshold, beyond something that’s typical developmental behaviors to something that indicates there me be some kind of a mental-health condition.”
In search of something — anything — for support, Sarber discovered the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Founded in 1979, with a Colorado chapter forming just a year later, the nonprofit is the nation’s largest grassroots organization for mental-health advocacy work. And it’s been a lifeline for Sarber, who helped establish a High Country affiliate for Summit and Lake counties last November.
Today, the branch has eight board members, including Sarber as president, and is building by the week. It now offers five different forms of programming, from peer groups for those suffering with an illness, to family support meetings to offer advice to caregivers, all with a focus on education, seeking treatment for those in need and breaking the stigma. The peer support group meets from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the St. Vincent Hospital conference room in Leadville every second Monday of the month, and every fourth Monday (including Sept. 26) at Alpine Bank in Frisco.
Skye Dayne, a Summit County resident of two years and an at-large board member of the High Country affiliate, knows the feeling of lacking a proper support system to help control her illness. The 49-year-old mother of three has dealt with bipolar disorder all her life since being diagnosed as an 8-year-old, and sought out a similar network in the region, realizing it was not terribly accessible to someone new to the area. This organization made all the difference, and is particularly relevant with September marking national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
“I know that my disease will be forever,” said Dayne. “I have my challenges, but as long as I recognize those challenges and don’t let them overcome, definitely, you can live with a mental illness. I didn’t let (it) control me, I manage it.”
The message is one Dayne and Sarber are trying to spread to the rest of the community. And they’re starting by putting the word out that a mental illness is not different than any other malady, except for how most people presently treat those who possess it.
Studies show that 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year, or about one in five adults. The statistics are similar in children and the usual handling of the situation by others is not much different either.
“When a kid comes back (to school) from cancer treatments,” said Sarber, “there’s posters and everybody running up, ‘Welcome back!’ Another kid comes back from a psychiatric hospital, and nothing — no recognition, no embracing of his peers, of his group. He left and now he’s back.
“We all have a need to belong,” she continued. “That’s just one of the things that we want to do. We would like more people to be willing to say to their neighbors and friends, ‘Yeah, I had an episode.’ It is a brain disorder.”
The goal of the pair and their local counterparts is to express those feeling the distress of having one of these sometimes debilitating illnesses, or trying to better understand that of a loved one, that it’s OK — you’re not alone, there are people out there who can help. Resources do exist in the Summit community at locations such as Mind Springs or the Summit Community Care Clinic, both in Frisco. But on average it can take someone eight to 10 years to reach out for treatment, and the sooner these disorders are addressed, the more it can decrease the severity of the impacts to one’s life.
Having such first-hand experience, the volunteer NAMI group hopes people will heed the call either pre- or post-crisis as a free outlet for assistance, a source of strength and place of understanding. One casserole at a time.
“It’s just a chemical imbalance,” said Dayne. “For NAMI, it’s about helping those people have a voice, because there’s a lot of people in the dark. And we are that hand in the dark reaching out.”
For more information about NAMI’s High Country chapter or programming, contact Betty Sarber at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 389-0808, or Skye Dayne at (720) 481-9079.
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