Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For 2 days, spotlight on mental illness

Ashley Judd is a special guest speaker for NAMI program

Express Staff Writer

As part of her humanitarian work, actress Ashley Judd gives a drink to a child in Soweto, South Africa, an impoverished urban sector of Johannesburg. Photo courtesy of

An unprecedented uptick in suicides among the valley's residents, some of them quite public, has spurred to the front crisis-intervention advocates who previously had been working quietly behind the scenes, preparing for these worst-case scenarios.

If there is a silver lining, it is that groups like the National Alliance for Mental Illness are getting the community's ear on the issue and funds are beginning to trickle in for more preventative measures, said Wendy Norbom, executive director of NAMI Wood River Valley.

Kicking off what is sure to be the busiest year yet for the local NAMI chapter will be an appearance by actor, advocate and author Ashley Judd. She will be in Sun Valley on Monday, Feb. 20, for a speaking engagement at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church to raise awareness and funding for the organization.

Judd, seen recently by many in the uplifting family film "Dolphin Tale" and the critically acclaimed "Helen," about a woman and her family dealing with mental illness, will sign copies of her book about her philanthropic work and how it arose from her own recovery from depression.

"All That Is Bitter and Sweet" is Judd's memoir of life as the baby of the family adrift while her sister Wynona and mother, Naomi, rose to fame in the country music world and how the experience led her to engage in humanitarian work abroad.

There will also be a philanthropic luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 12:30 p.m. at the home of Susan and Jerry Flynt. Tickets for the luncheon are $500.

Psychiatric care is among the most expensive and difficult to obtain in this remote valley, and that's where NAMI volunteers, who have been trained to facilitate support groups for families and people with mental illness, perform the support services for free. Norbom's main job is to write grants and connect people to resources.

"A mental illness, just like any traumatic illness, affects the whole family," Norbom said. "Stigma and denial delay early intervention. Treatment and medicines are prohibitively expensive for people and an accurate diagnosis takes a long time. The experience can literally bankrupt people."

Current unemployment rates and the loss of Health and Welfare funding and services have compromised the steadiest of people, she said, meaning free resources are needed more than ever.

NAMI is trying to earn enough to receive a matching grant of $25,000 promised from the Heart of Gold Fund in the Idaho Community Foundation.

Because police are usually the first responders to a crisis, NAMI is also seeking a grant for crisis-intervention training for law enforcement.

This spring, NAMI will present workshops for people dealing with mental illness themselves or of their children, friends or family. A support group for people with a diagnosis, called Connections, has grown from seven to 75 members within the past year. An educational series for middle- and high-school students, called Ending the Silence, will be offered thanks to a grant by the Little Black Dress Club.

Also, in response to the death of young Dex Gannon by suicide, his father, Steve, said a benefit concert that is part of the Sun Valley Artists Series will be held March 10 to raise money for Crisis Hotline and NAMI Wood River Valley. He said St. Luke's Wood River has partnered in the effort and will soon announce its role in expanding services as well as the joint publication of a "Get Help" mental-health resource guide.

"This is just the beginning," Norbom promised. "We are ready—we just need the funding to do it all."

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