The top business leaders in Rim Country stood with their hands on their hips, feet spread — classic super hero pose.
It’s all about feeling empowered, according to three speakers from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) who told harrowing tales of abuse and triumph in the Mazatzal Casino meeting room at the chamber of commerce luncheon this week. The humorous involvement of the audience of business people introduced a moving and serious topic, that left many in tears by the end of the presentation.
NAMI Payson came to the luncheon to introduce the business community to the classes and support the organization offers the community.
Patty Wisner, president of the Payson NAMI chapter, brought along Emily, Tyler and Dar who have each triumphed over the stigma and abuse that so often compounds the toll of mental illness. The speakers talked about addiction, rape and redemption.
The two women and one man have gone through the In Our Own Voice NAMI classes, which help people coping with mental illness tell their story to combat the stigma of depression, mania, schizophrenia and other conditions.
Wisner said, “Mental illness represents the biggest economic burden in a community,” she said. “Estimates are it causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.”
She said research shows about 44 million adults experience mental illness each year.
She then extrapolated the percentage estimated to have mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar in Payson.
“In Payson, with a population of 15,476, we would have 154 with schizophrenia, 402 with bipolar, 1,068 with major depression and 2,801 suffering from anxiety disorders,” said Wisner.
She also talked about the suicide rate.
“It has been increasing and is now an epidemic,” she said. “It has increased across age, gender, race and ethnicity.”
Wisner said mental illness never goes away. “There is no cure,” she said, “You don’t just take a magic pill and you no longer have schizophrenia.”
NAMI works to provide tools to help people improve their quality of life. “We help those with mental illness to live well, despite that illness,” said Wisner.
She then introduced Dar, Taylor and Emily as the NAMI Payson facilitators who help individuals and their families find support and help to live a quality life.
Dar works with the Peer-to-Peer program, which helps people find treatment and support services. Dar said she suffers from major depression, PTSD and an anxiety disorder.
“I have had numerous hospitalizations and suicide attempts,” she said. “But it’s been 10 years since I have tried to take my life.”
A treatment plan and support made the difference, which is why she now seeks to help others. “I have been at a point in my life where I want to give back,” she said.
Taylor works with the family support program, which meets the third Thursday of the month at the Presbyterian Church.
“NAMI offers core groups and confidential support groups,” he said. “We concentrate on the here-and-now approach so they can properly care for each other.”
Emily plans to work with the youth in Payson, since most mental illness shows up after a child turns 14.
Emily suffered sexual abuse at the age of 5 at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, living in a family scarred by drug addiction, domestic violence, and poverty. At 12, she had developed undiagnosed PTSD. But her family and doctors simply fed her prescription drugs, until they didn’t work anymore.
“At the age of 12, I attempted suicide the first time,” she said. “I self-medicated with methamphetamine and cocaine.”
Emily ended up pregnant and going on to medical school, caught in an abusive relationship. On the day their child was due, a fight in the car ended in a rollover accident.
She eventually fled her abuser by moving out of state to her sister’s home.
“But the detective on the case to put the abuser — this police officer I had trusted with the report on my abuser — broke into my house and attacked me,” she said.
She ended up homeless with two children for four years.
Then, a miracle.
“After four years of dark days, Rebecca Crawmine reached out to me,” she said. “Emily are you OK? Can I hug you?
Those simple questions started a friendship in which Emily finally felt safe telling her story.
The frosting on the cake came along when Emily found NAMI. After taking classes, she learned how to tell her story and looks forward to creating a program for teenagers.