Organization shining a light on mental health


CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed “On Our Own” as the organizers of the Mosaic event. The event was organized by National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) and the Virginia Association of Community Based Providers. The article has been corrected.

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) – It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year.

On Wednesday, mental health advocates are putting together a mosaic piece and hosting a concert at Elmwood Park. Organizers said the artwork is a symbol of mental illness and how people can take a broken life and make something beautiful of it.

Maria Massaro said living with a mental illness can be isolating at times and hard for others to understand.

“People are pretty limited in their knowledge of mental illness and really don’t know how to handle it,” Massaro said. “How to respond to someone with an illness”.

Massaro said connecting with peer support groups has helped her recover from major depression. She is also taking part in training to become a certified peer recovery specialists.

“We talk about how to engage peers and how to engage in problem solving,” said Jeff Leonard, a peer recovery specialist instructor. Leonard said the 46-hour training is part of recent efforts by the state to better address mental health problems.

“It also includes 500 hours of on-the-job experience” he said. The state is also backing training for police officers with the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).

As part of the CIT training, Leonard said he helps law enforcement agencies develop strategies to identify and respond to someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

“Not to approach them aggressively,” he said. “Give them some space, ask them what’s going on.”

By having honest discussions and gaining a better understanding of mental health, those recovering hope to see the stigma erased.

“We have to stop isolating and hiding and reach out to other people and organizations so that there is a better understanding and a better reaction to it” said Massaro.

Wednesday’s event, which goes from 4-9 p.m., at Elmwood Park includes music by Fuzzy Logic, Rhiana Roper and other bands. Admission is $10 and proceeds help organizations helping people with mental health problems.

On Thursday, there will be a candlelight vigil taking place at West End United Methodist Church from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Both of these events are sponsored by NAMI Roanoke Valley.

Mental Illness Awareness Week began October 2 and ends on October 8.

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