EAST LIVERPOOL-If you were in downtown East Liverpool early Tuesday afternoon you may have noticed a brightly-colored tour bus covered with pictures of smiling people and emblazoned with facts like, "Mental illness is a disorder of the brain" and "Mental illness affects 1 in 5 families."
Getting noticed and raising awareness is just what the members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Ohio set out to do when they embarked on the "MIND" (Mental Illness-No Discrimination) press tour.
According to a press release from NAMI, the purpose of the bus tour is "to end discrimination against individuals living with mental illness and their family members by getting the facts about mental illness out to the public.
The NAMImobile made a stop Wednesday in downtown East Liverpool. (Photo by Devin Bezeredi)
NAMI hopes to do just that by taking its bus, which is referred to as the "NAMImobile," throughout the state and stopping at more than 100 Ohio newspapers during the course of six weeks. East Liverpool was the 10th stop on NAMI's tour of Ohio newspapers.
"This is a 31-foot bus- it's a rolling billboard," said NAMI public relations representative Katie Dillon. "We've had results already with people calling the 1-800 number when they see it driving down the road."
Dillon says the NAMImobile has received a positive response from the towns it has visited so far. In addition to curious passers-by, the NAMImobile has attracted organizers and members from NAMI's many local chapters. Columbiana County is no exception, with members turning out to do their part to raise awareness about the mental health resources available to county residents right in their backyard.
Columbiana County NAMI affiliate President Linda Eells calls the county chapter of NAMI a "well kept secret" and says the organization would like to change that.
Established in 1986, NAMI Columbiana County offers support and education for families of people with mental illness. Originally a support group for families of the mentally ill, NAMI now offers a peer group in which recovering victims of mental illness can offer guidance and support to those looking to get help. Meetings are held at two county locations: 4:15-5:45 p.m. each Wednesday in the Wing B Board Room at the Counseling Center in Lisbon, and 5-6:30 p.m. each Thursday at the Carnegie Public Library in East Liverpool.
"All diagnoses are welcome to come," said Eells. "What goes on there stays there, so they get that feeling of trust and get to share their successes as well as their struggles."
This is the NAMImobile's second time stopping in Columbiana County. Two years ago it set up shop at Rogers Sale and both the Salem and Calcutta Walmart locations. Since then, the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board has officially joined NAMI in fighting discrimination against the mentally ill.
Kathleen Chafee, executive director of the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services (MHRS) Board, says the MHRS board and NAMI have a shared goal in ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, so joining the MIND campaign seemed only natural
"Recovery for people with addictions and mental illnesses is a top priority for us," said Chaffee. "Stigma and discrimination keeps people from being open about their conditions, keeps them from reaching out."
Recovery Assistant Maureen Waybright, who lives with Bi-polar disorder, can attest to the helpfulness of local support and peer groups like those offered by NAMI and the MHRS Board. She says for years, she struggled with her condition in isolation. Taking medication and seeing a doctor just were not enough, so when a friend suggested she seek treatment through groups like the MHRS and NAMI, she was skeptical at first. However, after time spent attending meetings and working as a recovery assistant, her mental illness began to improve. Today, after 11 years of working as a recovery assistant, she says she is a living testament to the power of seeking help and support.
"Once I got involved in the peer stuff and some of the programs offered by the (MHRS) board, the depression lifted," she said.
Shining Reflections on Market Street in downtown East Liverpool is one of several places those suffering with mental illness can go and not have to worry about discrimination due to their condition. It is also a place where people can receive support from people who understand what it is like to suffer a mental illness.
Shining Reflections will be hosting its third annual Schizophrenia Awareness Walk and Mental Health Fair on Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m.