Locals work to create awareness for mental illness


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While it’s been almost 20 years since her most recent psychiatric hospitalization, today, the collection of 18 different keys — more specifically what they symbolize — has helped Margalea Warner deal with three decades of schizophrenia.

What once stood for former apartment and psychiatric hospital keys now represent the main motivators in her recovery — hugs, church, and community.

Community awareness and support is what the longtime University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics secretary said has helped her recovery.

Stories similar to Warner’s, local advocates say, shine a light on the importance of Mental Illness Awareness Week throughout the Iowa City area.

This week, local organizations will put on events in hopes to encourage those suffering to seek help — which, Warner said, they often avoid.

“People generally don’t get insight that they have a medically treatable illness,” she said. “Medicine itself is not enough. Supportive peers, family, community, and coworkers [are needed for recovery.]”

Historically, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors has been a top funder for mental-health services in the state.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s something folks pay much attention to until it directly affects them,” said Supervisor Rod Sullivan. “We have a tendency as a society to sort of move on to our own things. That means folks who have these needs don’t get them addressed the way they should.”

As a former social worker, he said, he dealt with individuals who suffered from mental illness.

“I was able to see firsthand the impact on families and others in the community,” Sullivan said. “I have a pretty good idea of just exactly how devastating this can be for folks.”

The main concern, he said, is Iowa’s lack of mental-health resources, including a lack of statewide hospital beds for mental-health patients and a shortage of psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists.

A Monday night candlelight vigil was held in front of the Sheraton Hotel, 210 S. Dubuque St.

At the event, sponsored by the National Alliance for Mental Illness of Johnson County, individuals, including Warner, spoke about their road to recovery.

Iowa City resident and keynote speaker Haley Lynch, who has battled severe depression, lost her fiancé to the illness through suicide in 2011.

She said she was left her with only their son and a feeling of loneliness.

“I want you to know that you are not alone,” she said during her speech. “I want you to see that I have made it, and I am standing up here to show you that you can make it, too.”

Mental illness is an issue in the community and also on the UI campus. UI Director of University Counseling Service Sam Cochran said he agrees that not enough people seek the help they need, and many students are nervous to do so.

He said he hopes this week will make students realize getting support is OK.

“Awareness of resources, these conditions, how to get help, and where to get help hopefully [will] bring more students to our door,” he said.

Additional events taking place this week include a discussion panel with the PTA of Lemme Elementary, 3100 E. Washington St., for parents of children with mental illness and an “Interfaith Gathering of Prayer and Sharing” at the Agudas Achim Congregation, 401 Oakdale Blvd., Coralville.

On Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Short’s Burgers East Side, 521 Westbury Drive, will donate 15 percent of its profits to the Johnson County Community Mental Health Center.

Attendants at the event Monday night stressed the need for people to not be afraid of the issue but to address it.

“I hope that they’ll just take away a sense that there’s not shame to having a mental illness,” said Coralville resident Patte Henderson. “The stigma that our society has put out on mental illness for so long — it’s not necessary.”

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