Focus on eliminating stigma
Bipolar disorder, depression, suicide and stigma were among the topics candidly discussed at an Oct. 28 mental health forum at Hosanna Church in Lakeville.
The event drew an audience of 560 that included parents, children and professionals, more than more than double the number expected, said Monica Jensen, spokeswoman for the Dakota County Attorney’s Office.
Keynote speaker Ken Barlow, a KSTP-TV meteorologist, received a standing ovation after sharing of his battle with bipolar disorder in a discussion with the Rev. Bill Boline, of Hosanna Church.
Symptoms like sleeplessness and despondency plagued Barlow since college and were misdiagnosed for years until he “collapsed in a heap” in Boston, and awoke after a week hospitalized in what he learned was a manic episode.
His diagnosis, Bipolar Disorder 1, left him depressed and shocked, but when he told his mother, she revealed his father had also suffered with the illness, but nobody knew because he was embarrassed.
Barlow was embarrassed as well, and for five years he and his family kept “the secret” until last year when he told 4,000 people gathered for a National Alliance on Mental Illness walk he was emceeing.
Since then, Barlow has become a public advocate for breaking stigma and perceived shame of mental illness.
His sentiments were echoed throughout the event, as panel members that included counselors, a police officer and a pastor shared their own experiences and encounters with mental illness.
Dakota County Adolescent Health Coordinator Shannon Bailey said one in four people have a mental illness, and said Barlow is not alone in the five years he spent hiding the truth from others.
They described warning signs for parents to look for in their children, including depression, withdrawal and hostility. They noted that drug use and mental illness often go hand-in-hand.
Depression, although one of the most common emotional problems, is also the most treatable, experts said.
Parents with concerns were encouraged to talk to their children and seek help. Dakota County has numerous resources.
Dakota County has a 24-hour crisis response line staffed with social workers available at 952-891-7171 any day of the week.
Hosanna Church offers “Life Hurts,” an eight-step recovery program for students in grades 4-12 who are challenged by life issues including drugs, alcohol, divorce, abuse, bullying, cutting, eating disorders, sex or peer pressure.
To find out more about the Christian recovery program, call 952-898-0135 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other resources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.namihelps.org; www.teensphere.com; First Call for Help at www.211unitedway.org.
Dakota County also offers school linked and school-based mental health programs in participating districts. Information about how to access them is available at the schools or through the Dakota County Collaborative, 952-891-7449.