RACINE — When describing her long struggle with mental health, 55-year-old Luann Simpson boiled her experience down to two major dramatic course changes in her life.
The first occurred at age 24 when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, experiencing extreme mood fluctuations “ranging from the deep darkness of depression to the heightened energy of full-blown mania” and plunging her into a phase of occasionally being locked up in a psychiatric unit, given dozens of medications, even various phases of electroconvulsive therapy.
The second happened when she first walked into the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County office — where she is now a peer support consultant.
“I was told that I had a mental illness and it is treatable and, with medications, I would be able to manage and be OK,” Simpson said of her original diagnosis. “Well, I am here to tell you that manageable and OK does not have to be future for anyone diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental health recovery is real.”
Simpson shared her story to about 120 people at “Bridging the Gaps: Mental Health Recovery is Real — Take the First Step,” a community rally observing Mental Health Awareness Month at Wheaton Franciscan-All Saints hospital on Thursday evening.
Organized by Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, United Way of Racine County, NAMI Racine County and Infinite Potential Central, the rally gathered organizations, businesses and government bodies to share how they are trying to make an impact in better treating mental illness.
Speakers addressing the crowd included Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, United Way of Racine County President Rodney Prunty, NAMI of Racine County Executive Director Mike Boticki and others. In addition, the rally featured some speakers who shared their personal struggles with mental illness, such as Simpson and Miss Racine Haley Schonter.
New mental health clinic
Among the initiatives highlighted at the rally, Prunty announced that United Way will be partnering with the Racine Unified School District to start a school-based mental health clinic in Knapp Elementary School, 2701 17th St., being rebuilt to open as a “community school” next year.
That would be the third New Beginnings school clinic at Unified schools — which stations a Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin clinic in a school — since the program first launched in October in partnership with the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health. There are clinics at SC Johnson Elementary, 2420 Kentucky Street and Wadewitz Elementary, 2700 Yout St.
In addition, Prunty highlighted the need to combat the negative association many have of mental illness, a key theme of the rally to help those suffering with mental illness to take their own first step toward recovery.
He noted that the rally — which organizers plan to be an annual event — and other events like it will be important steps in the effort to rid society of that stigma.
“This is the first of many,” Prunty said. “We’re going to continue to grow, and I can tell you we’re not going to rest until we have significantly reduced or even eliminated the stigma associated with mental illness in our community so folks can get the help they need to live productive lives.”
Organizers said anyone looking for information about mental illness, as well as the support and resources available for county residents go to NAMI of Racine County’s website: http://www.namiracinecounty.org/
"I am here to tell you that manageable and OK does not have to be future for anyone diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental health recovery is real.”
— Luann Simpson, of National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County