Join mental health walk to help fight stigma

May 10, 2011

By Laura Geggel

As a girl, Susan Osborn loved horses, reading and science. Ever the Renaissance woman, she earned her associate arts degree from Bellevue College, working her way through college to pay for her education.

Susan Osborn, an Issaquah volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, encouraged people to participate in the NAMIWalk 5k in Kirkland. By Laura Geggel

But something didn’t feel right. In her late 20s, Osborn began to withdraw from life. She saw her doctor, who sent her to a neurologist when he could not find any physical problems with her.

In 1984, the neurologist found she had a chemical imbalance in her brain, and diagnosed her with clinical depression.

“That was a big turning point in my life,” Issaquah resident Osborn said. “I thought, ‘I won’t get married or have children.’”

In spite of her fears, Osborn went on to conquer life with the help of support groups, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more commonly known as NAMI.

NAMI Eastside, serving Issaquah, invites the community to NAMIWalk, a free 5K walk in Kirkland. Donations made to NAMI Eastside are tax-deductible, and the walk will raise money for the nonprofit organization’s services helping families and people with mental illness.

The mental illness list is long — eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, to name a few — and one of NAMI’s goals is to make mental illness less taboo.

“Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease, and are treatable just like any other disease, but people don’t talk about it,” NAMI Eastside Office Director Barbara Thompson said. “The public needs to understand that mental illnesses are physical brain disorders, and that those affected need community support and not silence.”

Proceeds from the walk will benefit support and educational classes NAMI provides on the Eastside, including:

  • Family to Family: a 12-week class for family members who have a loved one with a mental illness.
  • Peer to Peer: a nine-week class for people with a mental illness who are working toward recovery.
  • NAMI Basics: a six-week class for parents with a child who has a mental illness.

Other services include school presentations and mental health advocacy.

With state cutbacks for mental health programs, more people are turning to NAMI Eastside, Director Paul Beatty said.

The cities of Issaquah and Sammamish have supported NAMI Eastside for the past six years, and Beatty encouraged the public to learn more about the organization to learn whether they could benefit from, donate to or volunteer with the organization.

Osborn decided to get help from Sound Mental Health and volunteer with NAMI.

Since her initial diagnosis, she has had two major depressive episodes, and now has the diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Sometimes, she feels so alone that she doesn’t want to leave her bed. To her, the world appears grey and monotone, and in the past, slips in her medication have left her feeling suicidal.

With the help of medications and unconditional support, Osborn lives her life, pursuing her passions, including volunteering at the Bellevue Art Museum.

“Being depressed has been a challenge for me,” she said. “I fought against it a lot. I used to think it was a weakness, but now I think it’s a strength. It’s made me empathetic, compassionate and more sensitive to other people’s needs.”

Talking about her depression is hard, she said, but she wanted to thank NAMI for continuing its mission. She invited others to seek help if they’re in need.

“If there’s anybody out there who has been diagnosed with clinical depression, NAMI is the place to go,” she said.

If you go

NAMIWalk

8:30 a.m. registration/9:30 a.m. walk May 14

Marina Park, 25 Lake Ave. W., Kirkland

Register or donate online at www.nami.org/namiwalks/wa.

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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