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National Alliance for Mental Illness shares hope and help in Union County

May is mental health month

May 2014 is Mental Health month, and for Noreen Runyan, Coordinator of Union County’s National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), it’s an opportunity to get the word out, that there’s hope and help for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness.

The theme for 2014 mental health month is “Mind Your Health.” This focuses on support, diet, stress control and coping. It centers on managing the situation and keeping mental health. NAMI stresses education, support and advocacy for those with mental illness and their family members.

“National Alliance on Mental Illness” (NAMI), began in 1979 when two moms who both had children with a serious mental illness banded together looking for some support and began building support for other families and their situations. “It is a grassroots organization at the national, state and local level. I think there are fifty-five affiliates in the state of Ohio. Union County NAMI has been in existence since 1985. We provide education, support and advocacy for people with mental illness, and for their family members,” Runyan states.

Runyan fields phone calls from both family members and individuals with mental illness.

“What I do is receive phone calls from both family members and individuals with mental illness. I act as ‘a calm’ in the storm, If they are in the midst of a mental health crisis. I may direct them towards education, make sure their loved one is properly diagnosed, and also talk about the elements of support and self-care” shares Runyan.

Noreen’s goal: get the word out about NAMI and the services they offer to point individuals and families to the help and resources they need to cope and deal with mental illness. Three support groups facilitated by NAMI in Union County include The Family and Friends Support Group. This group is for people with adult loved ones, suffering with mental illness. The group meets the third Tuesday of the month, 7-9 pm at 131 North Main St., in the Mental Health Board Office.

Another group is led by two elementary teachers, one retired and one active, who supports parent/grandparent/foster parents with children under 18 diagnosed with a mental illness, serious emotional disorder, or just difficult to control behavior. “All NAMI facilitators for support groups have got to have the ‘lived’ experience with mental illness. We all have a loved one that they’ve lived with or cared for with a serious and persistent mental illness,” Runyan mentions. They meet at the Hope Center on the first Thursday of the month at 7 pm. In the works is the third support group, NAMI Connects Recovery Support Group. This peer-to-peer support group services adults living with mental illness and they meet at Wings Enrichment Center, 729 S. Walnut St, Marysville.

Obtaining medical care and proper diagnosis for a family member displaying symptoms of mental illness remains paramount. Certain physical health issues such as brain tumors, thyroid issues, hormone issues to name a few, can mimic symptoms of mental illness. A trained medical professional needs to determine a precise diagnosis, followed by medication. The difficulty occurs matching the correct medicinal combinations that will combat or eliminate symptoms in the patient all together. The other elements of recovery consist of counseling, housing, employment, and the support of a safe community, such as family, friends, and co-workers.

A vital piece to assist the mentally ill in recovery that is grossly disregarded is self-care of their caregivers. “In our Family and Friends Support Group, I like to use the analogy of when the oxygen mask drops down on a plane; you always put your own on first, before you can tend to your child or loved one that needs help. Same principle – you always need to take care of yourself addressing your sleep, stress reduction, exercises, or know how to minimize your stress. Caregivers can fall into depression, situational depression, and they can surely have anxiety. Sometimes our family members are encouraged to go to counseling because it’s hard to live with a loved one with mental illness. It takes tremendous effort to get them into recovery.” Runyan states.

“And of course, one of the key points to share with our loved one is that even though this is a chronic illness that will be with them for the rest of their lives, the steps we are now taking will be moving them in a positive direction towards recovery. That is key. We just need to be thinking of getting people in that direction and then we need to setup the legs of support underneath them – the doctor, the medication, the counseling, the case manager, to help them with supportive housing if needed, or employment, and a body of people to support them – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, church family.” She continues.

NAMI of Union County offers a foundation of excellent mental health services. “We have a great foundation of mental health services, even though small they are mighty. We’re small in terms of a county; we’re mighty in terms of our mental health services. And what we don’t have here, we refer people to Marion, most times into Columbus, where resources are greater.”

A key player for mental health programming in Union County has been retired Executive Director at the Mental Health Recovery Board, Mike Whitsky. “He left a legacy of fine support for people with serious mental illness, providing the best comprehensive services as possible between private and public counselors. He also is instrumental in making sure we have psychiatrists in our area, because nation-wide, there’s such a shortage of psychiatrists,” Runyan states.

Whitsky set up different levels of supportive housing for individuals with addictions and serious/persistent mental illness. Some of the services provided within these units were to assist people getting to their doctor appointments, getting their medications, and even down to the small things such as house cleaning. Case managers assist them until they get back on their feet and out on their own. “That’s probably his greatest legacy. He has made sure that we have fine resources available in our community and that we can build on them especially since our county continues to grow.”

Also part of Whitsky’s accomplishments was establishing an employment center at Wings Enrichment Center. This center assists individuals with employment resources and literally “walks besides” them assisting them in all aspects of the job search. The Wings Enrichment Center is right next to Heartland at 729 S. Walnut St. in Maysville. Wings serves as a peer support center and has several forms of peer-to-peer groups one can join. “They have dinners there. They maintain a job club which teaches woodworking, making small furniture pieces and novelties, and then assist to help sell the pieces for income. It is really an essential place. I guess peer support is really an essential piece of recovery as well so they can understand that they are not in this alone; that other people are working towards recovery as well, and that’s what Wings does for them.” Runyan adds.

NAMI aids in eliminating the stigma with mental illness. “That’s the number one reason people won’t get help. We need to eradicate stigma. You would not turn to a person having a heart attack and say ‘you have to get over that.’ No, we call the squad and get them help. We would not minimize their symptoms. We wouldn’t tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like people do with mental illness. We wouldn’t do any of that with physical illness. It’s because its mental illness and it’s a brain disorder. It’s a bio-chemical brain disorder. That’s what a mental illness is. They need those chemicals in their brain rebalanced. That’s why they need medication. Treatment helps, recovery happens. All facilitators are trained by NAMI of Ohio. The groups are just one way we can help the families as they take this difficult journey towards recovery.” Runyan states.

Noreen Runyan runs NAMI of Union County almost single-handedly, and she needs help! “I have to be able to connect people with the support they need. I also need more people since I cannot be in two places at once. More people equates to more experiences. For instance if I were to get a call from a family who needs support because their Mentally ill Son is in jail, Maybe I could call another individual who has experience on that level. Are you that person or can you assist me with YOUR experiences?”

Anyone needing help, or wanting TO help Noreen Runyan can contact her at 937-243-2242 or email her at Information on the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) resides at

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