A family’s journey toward overcoming mental illness

BY GARY D. GADDY | January 17, 2017

It’s the phone call you never want to get. The middle-school counselor calls to tell you that your seventh-grader is delusional and is saying crazy things, and the school has called the police to take him to the hospital for evaluation and possible involuntary commitment.

I got that call 25 years ago.

I remember clearly hoping that my son was on LSD – not something a parent usually hopes for his 13-year-old – but LSD usually wears off. Psychotic disorders often do not.

The phone call I got, or one much like it, is a phone call that hundreds of thousands of parents get every year. The numbers are staggering. One in eight young people between 8 and 15 years old lives with a mental illness severe enough to impair their day-to-day lives. The number jumps to one in five among those 13 to 24 years old.

Serious mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are a factor in much school failure and many if not almost all suicides.

Consider this startling statistic: More teenagers and young adults die of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, and influenza combined. Let me repeat that, more than all of those maladies combined.

If you think this problem is for somebody else, somewhere else, consider this: In North Carolina in 2013, more than one in 10 middle schoolers reported having attempted suicide. That’s an average of three in every class of 30 middle-school students. The numbers for high school students are higher.

Given the longstanding state of disarray of our state’s and our nation’s mental health treatment systems, what can be done to aid those whose young lives and their families have been hit by mental illness?

One family hit personally by the mental illness that struck their daughter has acted to see if they can’t make some good of all the tribulation that they have endured as a result of the inadequate treatment she has received. (To give some idea of their “journey,” their daughter was voluntarily in and out of 22 facilities over five years.)

Together with Donna Kay Smith and others, the Woodys founded Stand By Me NC, a nonprofit advocacy group whose mission is to alter social perceptions of mental illness by using the power of grassroots organization and community engagement as agents for change. (For more information, email standbyme_nc@yahoo.com.)

Tim and Dawn Woody will lead a discussion of their daughter’s mental illness and how they are working to change things, including overcoming the stigma related to the brain disorders known as mental illness. The Woodys will highlight Patrick Corrigan’s book, “Coming Out Proud to Erase the Stigma of Mental Illness,” as part of their presentation.

The event is free and open to the public and will take place at the Chapel Hill Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 24. This first-time community event is co-sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Orange County, Faith Connections on Mental Illness, Mental Health Community Connections: Children and Youth, as well as Stand By Me NC and the Chapel Hill Public Library.

For more information on this community event call 919-967-5403 or look online at www.faithconnectionsonmentalillness.org.