Theme of National Mental Health Month is “Life with a Mental Illness”

Published 10:18 pm Thursday, May 5, 2016

Local agencies and organizations discuss mental health issues in May

According to a proclamation made by the Polk County Board of Commissioners in May 2011, Mental Health Month has been observed across the United States since 1949.

The proclamation details the intent to “encourage all citizens to support advocacy, education and support of all our citizens with the hopeful and future elimination of stigma toward those living with mental illness.”

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Each year, the observance of this month has a theme. According to Kathy Woodham, director of public relations and marketing for St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus, this year’s theme is “Life with a Mental Illness” and reflects the effort to remove the stigma of having a mental illness.

Being an advocate for someone coping with a mental illness is the best thing someone who wants to help can do, according to Dr. Gordon Schneider, Ph.D. Schneider, a psychologist with St. Luke’s Hospital, said he is always available for folks who need his assistance.

“Advocating is a way of helping people understand that having a mental health issue should not be typed as a weakness or a moral kind of problem,” Schneider said. “Trying to be supportive, encouraging and helping people understand that there are resources available will bring a better understanding forward.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness website,, reports that one in five of the 43.8 million adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year.

Additionally, one in five teens aged 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. The Council on Recovery website reports by 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass physical diseases as the primary form of disability.

According to Paulette Heck, board president of the NAMI Western Carolina, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, NAMI offers family-to-family education courses on brain disorders, medications and crisis management techniques, connection groups and “In Our Own Voice” programs where two members of each session who are in recovery lead a group discussion about living with a mental illness.

These group sessions are free of charge and NAMI Western Carolina is located at 336 Biltmore Ave. in Asheville, N.C. For more information, visit

Smoky Mountain LME/MCO is a mental health services provider based in Asheville, N.C. that provides funding for mental health, substance use and intellectual or developmental disability for 23 counties in Western North Carolina. According to Peer Trainer Richie Tannerhill, bringing the community into the system of recovery is the key thing to focus on.

Smoky Mountain offers a hotline for people to call if they are having mental issues such as depression or alcohol abuse. It is available 24/7 and the number to call is 1-800-849-6127.

Schneider said there has been a major change in the amount of services available to the public since the early 2000s. According to Schneider, a push towards peer support services, including group therapy, has occurred as a result.

Through screenings of the Netflix documentary, “The Anonymous People,” which details the lives of over 23 million Americans living in recovery, Tannerhill travels across the Western North Carolina region with the intention of opening a dialogue about mental health and recovery in the group setting.

“Getting people to speak out and hearing the positive messages from your doctor, your friend or neighbor makes it okay for the conversation to continue,” Tannerhill said, adding that 80 percent of people know someone who is in recovery.

The Polk County Mental Health Advisory Board advises the Polk County Board of Commissioners in providing mental health services to the county, and Dr. Belynda Veser with St. Luke’s Hospital serves as the board’s chairman. Veser also works as the medical director of the geriatric psychiatry unit at St. Luke’s Hospital for patients 55 years of age and older.

“What’s really happening is we (the Polk County MHAB) work with something called the Polk County Mental Health Task Force in advising the commissioners about mental health service needs, happenings and so forth with the E.R., state mental health providers and St. Luke’s Hospital,” Veser explained. “The board is small and the Mental Health Task Force has been around since 2011.”

This Mental Health Task Force also includes the county’s Department of Social Services and law enforcement alongside mental health providers, according to Community Outreach Coordinator Becky Brodar with St. Luke’s Hospital.

Columbus Police Chief Chris Beddingfield said six or seven of his police officers are trained by NAMI to handle crises involving people who have mental health issues through a 40-hour “Crisis Intervention Team” series of training courses that teaches officers de-escalation techniques.

The CIT training gives officers the certification to handle a mental health crisis or substance abuse crisis, according to Beddingfield, and allows officers the advantage of being able to help any officer outside of the Columbus police department.

“The problem is that if we make an arrest and send the person to jail, that’s not where they are going to get the proper treatment,” Beddingfield said. “A lot of times, with the training you can avert that and, instead of going to jail, you can get them the treatment they need.”

Polk County officers with the CIT training have what Beddingfield calls a “pink card” in the overhead visors of their vehicles, containing the protocol for an officer if faced with someone with mental health issues along with the phone numbers of local entities who can provide mental health services to individuals.

“With these crises, some can be just psychological and some can be just substance abuse and a lot of time it is those mixed together,” Beddingfield explained. “Having the CIT training is something this department prides itself in having and I can say I’m proud of it.”

Bringing the community into the system is something Tannerhill said is his goal through his peer training work at Smoky Mountain LME/CMO.

“Some people who are in recovery feel that they can’t tell anyone else they are,” Tannerhill said. “The recovery movement is not going to happen without an ally and it’s going to take all the support we can get from these allies to move the message from out of the darkness into the light.”

These resources are available to you or a loved one you know who is going through a mental health crisis. Do not hesitate to call in an immediate crisis situation.

Mobile Crisis Management: Families Together, Inc. 24/7/365 Crisis Line with Face-to-Face Crisis Assessment, 1-888-573-1006

Polk Wellness Center: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 828) 894-2222

St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency Department: 828-894-0995, 828-894-3311 (main)

Family Preservation Services, Local Behavioral Health Provider: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. plus weekends and after-hour calls: Child: 828-899-0691; Adult: 828-899-0141

Polk County Department of Social Services: Monday through Friday – 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., 828-859-5825, weekends/after hours: 828-894-3001