Pam Robinson calls mental illness the “no-casserole illness,” even though she says it’s just like any other physical illness, like cancer or diabetes.
She recalled the reaction when two people close to her were hospitalized.
“One person was hospitalized with cancer. The other person was hospitalized with a mental illness. The person with cancer, I had almost too much support. I had to thank people and say, ‘Please, no more casseroles. I have no room in my refrigerator.’ And I was so grateful for all of that. Not so much with the person diagnosed with mental illness. We call mental illness the ‘no-casserole illness.'”
Robinson is a psychologist and president of the Anchorage affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She was part of a panel discussion Wednesday in the State Capitol Building where NAMI advocates shared firsthand accounts of living with mental illness, turning extremely personal matters into public ones.
When Brandon Williams was in his early teens, his mother was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder.
“When you have a mom with bipolar disorder, you don’t always know which mom you’re going to get. You know, sometimes you’re going to get the mom that’s on top of the world, ready to conquer everything – ‘What school assignments do you have? Let’s knock them out.’ And sometimes you get the mom that’s just so low and inconsolable that there’s nothing that can bring her out of it,” Williams said.
After numerous visits to the doctor, which didn’t fix anything, his mother eventually found the resources and services that started to help.
“She found NAMI where she found peer support, where she found people that understood and that she could actually talk to about what she was going through without being isolated or ashamed or alone, which was life changing and revolutionary,” Williams said.
NAMI specializes in peer-driven support and education. Groups and programs are led by trained individuals who have experienced mental illness or family members of people who’ve experienced mental illness.
Through a combination of NAMI resources, mental health education and medication, Williams said his mother recovered.
“My mom finally got to a place where she was someone that was completely controlled by her illness to having complete control over her illness. Our family didn’t fall apart,” he said.
Williams is an adult now. He’s the training and development manager for NAMI Anchorage. His mother, Francine Harbour, is the executive director.
“Talking about mental illness is difficult,” Harbour said. “People look at me now and say, ‘Really? You were that sick?’ And I go, ‘Yeah.'”
Harbour said state grants are crucial to making mental health treatment available. The problem, she said, is most legislators don’t often hear from people suffering from mental illness.
“Because of the stigma, most people who have experienced recovery don’t want to come out and say it, because they don’t want to be associated with that past,” Harbour said.
Susan Boegli is a pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Juneau. She said she isn’t afraid of the stigma and made the decision to out herself.
“I am bipolar. I’ve suffered from depression since I was a teenager. So I’m here in front of all of you and saying, ‘Yes, I am a leader, a spiritual leader in the community and I do, too, suffer from mental illness.'”
Boegli doesn’t consider herself recovered, but through the support of her family and NAMI resources, she’s managing her illness.
NAMI advocates spent several days this week in the Capitol. It had been several years since their last organized appearance there.
- Advocacy group Alaska Trails sent a letter to let Gov. Bill Walker know that transportation funds are at risk. Alaska returned $2.6 million to the U.S. Department of Transportation last September.
- The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association has been trying to move a majority of its net pens in the Tutka Bay Lagoon to the head of Tutka Bay for about four years. The hotly debated issue has led to packed community meetings and questions about the impact of raising fish in the area.
- A lot of science involves happy accidents. A retired scientist from Oregon stepped off the ferry in Sitka late last month, and on a hunch decided to look around the woods for an old friend.
- The Mat-Su Borough Assembly approved Tuesday the transfer of over a half-million dollars from existing funds to pay for repairs to the Port Mackenzie barge dock, although some expressed reservations about the port’s continuing costs.