By Calvert Johnson, chair, The Knowledge Series
“Ending the Silence: Shedding the Light on Mental Illness” is the topic of the January 2017 program of the Knowledge Series, featuring Neill Blake, past president of the Cobb County Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Millions of people suffer from mental illness, and one family in four is affected. It is one of the least understood diseases, in large part due to the feeling of shame, discrimination, sense of abandonment, isolation, ostracism by families and communities. Even faith communities can be part of the problem, suggesting that mental illness is a result of a lack of faith or unconfessed sin, or perhaps demon possession. Characterized as a persistent physiological brain disorder, mental illness requires medical treatment and care.
However, diagnosis can be life changing, just as is the case with diabetes, heart trouble and other diseases. While there is no cure, the symptoms of mental illness can be stabilized through appropriate medications and treatment, whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Recovery requires support and services as well.
Formerly, the mentally ill were institutionalized in mental hospitals, but today a high percentage end up in prisons, which are not prepared to treat the symptoms and assist these inmates in living full lives. Blake will discuss these issues and recommendations for family members and communities.
Under her leadership, NAMI Cobb has expanded to include free weekly support groups, education classes several times a year, community and classroom presentations and a partnership with local law enforcement to provide mental health crisis intervention team training.
Neill holds an undergraduate degree from Clemson University and a master’s degree in business from Purdue University. After a career in management with International Paper Company, she is now a community volunteer with programs such as Meals on Wheels, MUST Ministries Summer Lunch Program and Club 3:30, an after-school program for latch-key children. She is also an active member of First Presbyterian Church of Marietta and has served several terms on the session as an elder.
Neill and her husband Bill have three sons, one of whom has lived with serious and persistent mental illness for 15 years. He now lives a full life as a full-time college student in recovery from PTSD and major depression.
Sponsored by the Big Canoe POA, The Knowledge Series supports life-long learning and offers compelling monthly presentations by dynamic speakers and discussion groups on literary, artistic, international, national and regional topics of interest and significance. Future programs of The Knowledge Series this season will include:
- February 26: Robert Spano, Music Director, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
- March 12: Susan Booth, Director, Alliance Theatre
- April 23: Ed Dyckman, cardiologist from Big Canoe
- May 21: Peggy Still Johnson, Callanwolde.