Residents walk to raise awareness

EAST LIVERPOOL – A walk on a sunny spring day can hold the cure for many troubles. While mental illness may not be so easily cured, the Schizophrenia Awareness Walk and Mental Health Fair in downtown East Liverpool on Saturday provided awareness of the help available and support to those dealing with such disorders.

More than 200 people turned out for the third-annual event, which was held in cooperation with the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, Northeast Ohio Medical University and Mental Health America.

Shining Reflections, a local agency serving those coping with a mental illness, hosted the event in recognition of Schizophrenia Awareness Week, itself part of Mental Health Month in May.

Tom Volino, executive director of Shining Reflections, said the event’s goal is to support people with mental illness and to raise awareness of schizophrenia, which many people suffer with in private rather than seeking help.

Part of the reason are the many stigmas attached to schizophrenia specifically, and also mental illness in general. Volino stressed the importance of being able to see the mentally ill as people, keeping their humanity. “They’re not a schizophrenic; they’re a person with a diagnosis,” said Shining Reflections program director Nila McKinley.

Misconceptions exist about the mentally ill being dangerous to others in the community. Those fears are unfounded according to McKinley, who says that 1 out of every four adult Americans has some form of mental disorder.

“You never know who around you may have a mental illness,” Volino said, emphasizing that there are many people who don’t fit popular stereotypes, who live and work in the community every day.

McKinley and Volino both spoke of the contributions of countless musicians, writers and actors – as well as entrepreneurs, politicians and others – who have lived successful lives with a mental illness. “You go back through history, there was Einstein and quite a few other people that had mental illnesses, and people are not aware of it,” Volino said.

Another misconception – that mental disorders are somehow contagious – is widespread, despite its untruthfulness. “You cannot catch mental illness from a friend or somebody that has it,” Volino said. “Nobody can catch it from somebody else.”

Leashed dogs were welcome at the event, as they can be important to the healing process for many, according to Volino. “People sometimes turn to their pets first, for comfort, for affection – just to be there for them,” he said.

One attendee who surely agrees is Kimmi Sarkozy of East Liverpool, who has begun breeding dogs for therapeutic roles with mental patients, and brought three of her canine pupils to the event. A former intern at Shining Reflections, Sarkozy says she witnessed the good effects of having a dog for those struggling with the disease. “It helps for people to know that they’re loved,” she said. “It’s great therapy, and they will love you for life.”

The contribution of four-legged healers was recognized with dog bandannas printed with silver ribbons, the symbol of schizophrenia awareness, included in the free goody bags given to participants.

The event was sponsored by numerous local businesses and organizations, including Kent State University East Liverpool, Froggy 104.3, Ohio Valley College of Technology, and many others.

One popular sponsor was Not Just Smoke, a ministerial outreach of The Way Station, famous for its spreading both the Gospel message and barbecue. The Rev. Ed Sferra says he has ministered to people dealing with mental health problems, which inspired the desire to help.

He says people should be inspired by the love of God in their approach to those with mental illness. “He wants us to see them the way He sees them, with compassion and love,” Sferra said.

Shining Reflections assists with social support, jobs assistance, education and more. “We provide hope, the beginning of empowerment, a reason to get up in the morning,” McKinley said. More information is available at 330-385-7000.