NAMI Chicago offers support for mental illness

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Roughly one in four adults will experiences mental illness, and support from family and friends is critical to their care. (WLS)

Roughly one in four adults will experiences mental illness, and support from family and friends is critical to their care.

Many people who live with mental illness say the stigma around it can deter them from seeking treatment and make it difficult to get support. Now, some local people are sharing their stories in effort to raise awareness and erase the shame.

It's been a long, slow descent for Tiffany Brown Walker.

"Over the course of the last about seven years I went through some very bad times andended up with several hospitalizations," Brown Walker said.

Brown Walker first saw signs of mental illness in college. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder two - a condition that leads to extreme mood swings and erratic behavior. She wants others to know that they are not alone.

"There's not very many faces of color for people living with mental illness, either for themselves or their family members, so sharing my story is very important," Brown Walker said.

Now she is sharing her story at local churches to help raise awareness and break the stigma around mental illness in the African American and faith-based communities. In addition to family support, she says she relies on medication along with her faith.

"I prayed for God to take it away long before I realized that this was a medical issue. That's why I start with my faith and end it with the medical. They have to be together. You can't pray it away," she said.

It's part of a program called Bridges of Hope. It's sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness - or NAMI Chicago.

"The only thing that decreases stigma and decreases social discrimination is knowing somebody who's impacted, and the more that we can do this, the more that we can share our stories like Tiffany did today with the Bridges of Hope program, the more we can change that idea," said Alexa James, executive director, NAMI Chicago.

NAMI Chicago runs a similar workshop in Latino communities called Sharing Hope.

"It's very difficult for you to accept that a loved one in your family is dealing with this illness or even worse to talk about it and to find help. And also the barrier of the language. It's even harder for people to look for help," said Alicia Vignettes, whose family member lives with mental illness.

Presenters offer personal testimonies as well as train participants on the major signs and symptoms of mental illness.

"Some people sometimes recognize that a family member or a friend hasn't been acting right, so this type of presentation gives them the information that they need to kind of maybe help that person or refer that person to some help," said Juan Pablo Rivera, who lives with a mental illness.

People of color experience mental illness at similar rates, but are less likely to get treatment. For more information on where to seek help or to get in on one of these training sessions, visit

Related Topics:
societydisabilitydisability issuesmental healthChicago - Near West Side
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