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OUR VIEW: Raising mental illness awareness should be a community concern

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Chances are you know someone, or maybe are someone, who has suffered from mental illness.

One in four people is affected by a mental or neurological disorder or disorders at some time in his or her life, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s a message Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack emphasized at the city council meeting Wednesday night when he talked about Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 6-12.

The impact of mental illness won’t be lost on anyone who followed news of the tragic shooting at Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital. A former Navy reservist with a history of mental health issues killed 12 people there earlier this month.

According to Cheri Hall — who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is the second vice president for the Rio Rancho’s National Alliance on Mental Illness office, NAMI Westside — the recent shooting will probably raise awareness of mental illness, but she’s also saddened by the stigma the reports carry with them. Not everyone with a mental illness is dangerous, she said.

“We all have our own individual feelings,” she said. “Society makes fun, and it hurts us more than people think. We’re not crazy.”

Many of our national heroes have suffered from mental illness. The decorated soldiers we look up to often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder; some of our celebrated athletes suffer brain trauma and, as a result, depression; and even Abraham Lincoln was likely clinically depressed.

Rio Ranchoans could find the warning signs of mental illness in their own families and not even know it. According to the New Mexico’s Indicator-Based Information System, the suicide rate in New Mexico is consistently about twice the national average, which means it’s likely that chronic depression among teens is high as well.

NAMI Westside has attempted to address that issue with a program in Rio Rancho Public Schools, “Breaking the Silence.” But there are still way too many young people and adults who need help and aren’t getting it, according to Marilyn Salzman, NAMI Westside president.

That’s why, in honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, NAMI Westside will have an information booth at Esther Bone Memorial Library on Saturday and leave it up for the week. The group offers information and a free, 12-week program for those affected by mental illness.

Everyone in Rio Rancho owes it to themselves and their families to take a minute to stop by the library and pick up a flier.

“Hopefully, people will call us and ask us how we can help them,” Salzman said. “They have to come to us. We can’t go to them.”

For more information on NAMI Westside, go to NAMI.org, call 990-2292 or email namiwestside@cableone.net.

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