A large crowd of mental health professionals, concerned community leaders and college students gathered on Monday, Oct. 5 to honor those speaking out about mental health issues and the change that needs to take place in society regarding those diagnosed with mental illness.
“We need to avoid negative words when referring to people with mental illness,” said Dr. Tracey Skale, chief medical officer for the Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. “We have a tendency to label people from their diagnosis and they are so much more than a mental disorder. We need to treat people diagnosed with mental illness with respect just as you would any other disorder.”
"Those with mental illness may say, 'I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care,'" said Skale. "There are different ways for people to show support for those with mental illness."
Many of those present have taken an active role in showing their support.
The 2009 Hero Awards were presented to 25 individuals by Liz Atwell, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Southwest Ohio.
"These people have shown a passion for and have contributed significant input to the mental health community as a whole," said Atwell.
Those chosen have been involved in the Active Minds on Campus outreach.
Colleges represented by award winners include University of Cincinnati, both Clermont and downtown branches, Xavier University, College of Mount St. Joseph, Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College, and the Community Suicide Prevention Coalition.
The Hope Awards were given to three individuals who have willingly shared their stories of mental illness and recovery.
"Each year we have three awards for people who share very personal stories about their lives," said Ann Hoffman-Ruffner, president of the Partnership for Mental Health. "It takes a lot of courage for an individual to come forward and share. This is a really important piece in breaking down the barriers."
The Nancy Minson Advocacy Award was presented to Megan Enderle. Enderle told her story of the hope that was instilled to her through her therapist.
"When I was the most depressed, my therapist said that she didn't know what she would do if I were gone," said Enderle. "Her encouragement helped me to chose therapy. I know I will need it for the rest of my life and I'm okay with that. I can make a choice to take my medication and see my therapist. It is not my choice to have a mental illness, but it is my choice to get help."
The Hope in Recovery Award was presented to Adam Stammer. Stammer shared his story of how he has coped with the loss of his father and how he is currently coping with his mental illness.
The Making a Difference Peer Support Award was given to Karen Bryant. Bryant shared her experience of being in the hospital for treatment and said she was glad to be alive. She now lets others know that they can expect to be treated with dignity during their treatment and encourages them to seek treatment.
The keynote speaker for the event was Alison Malmon, founder of Active Minds on Campus, Inc. Malmon lost her older brother, Brian Malmon, to suicide in 2000. She shared that fact that her brother was trying to make a name for himself as a college student and managed to conceal his symptoms of depression and psychosis for three years.
He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and suffered in pain and fear for a year and a half before he took his own life.
"I was a senior in high school when he was diagnosed and my big brother had suddenly become my younger brother," said Malmon. "His plans to graduate from college had failed, he was struggling to know how to fit in and he lived with the fear that he would never be able to do the things he had planned to do."
After his death, Malmon noticed that although many of her friends on campus were dealing with mental illness within their own families, no one was talking about it.
"Those suffering from mental health issues need to hear success stories from those who are dealing successfully with their mental illness, but it is not talked about,? said Malmon. "I knew I wanted to educate those who are suffering from mental illness and give people hope. Every student needs to learn that there is hope and help available to them."
Malmon founded the Active Minds on Campus organization in 2003 to help with that education and today there are 2,000 Active Minds chapters across the United States and now one chapter in Australia.
A number of Cincinnati colleges are participating in the organization and held a walk to raise awareness of the growing number of college age suicides.
"I want to change the language we use to describe those suffering from mental illness. We need to stop using words like wacko and nut," she said. "We need to make contact with those who are suffering from mental illness. They need to know they have a friend. It is time we treat mental illness as any other disorder, with respect. We are not all that different from those suffering with mental illness."
Malmon challenged those in attendance to go home and tell the story to someone who needs to hear it. She told those suffering with mental illness to share their stories because they matter and people need to hear them.