"Any one of us at any time - me, you, any of us - could become mentally ill in the next few months," said Travis Jenkins, M.D. "And so I think to have a stigma about it - you can talk about your broken leg - you can't talk about your profound depression that you can't pull yourself out of."
The faces of mental illness look like all of us. Mental illness is an invisible medical condition that affects the entire family and cannot be easily detected from exterior appearances.
"When I was in treatment here, I got very, very sick and I made a bargain with God that if He got me better, that I would give my life to mental illness," said former patient, Greg Mashburn. "And sure enough, Dr. Jones got me on the right medication and Nancy Ewing gave me the tools to work with and now I'm free of highs and lows. And I just want other people to do the same and to have the same opportunity that I did."
"My family has been touched by mental illness" said David Bates. "For years and years it was tough to talk about. I lost an older brother years ago and he suffered from some mental health issues and my family struggled with that for many years."
Each year, Ozark Guidance helps over 14,500 people, including 4,800 children in Benton, Washington, Carroll, and Madison Counties. Treatment is available for those suffering with a mental health challenge, but many times people go untreated because of the stigma often associated with mental illness.
"What we're trying to do through the Mental Wellness Awareness Campaign is get the word out mental illness or mental health problems are very common," said organizer Tom Petrizzo, "and that there are treatments that are very effective at providing relief from those problems. Some common examples are depression or anxiety. Those are very common problems that people have day-to-day, and there's lots of treatments available that can provide quick relief for those two conditions.
"When I was a police officer on the streets in Fayetteville, and during that time I had my first experiences as a police officer dealing with the individuals who are suffering from mental illness," said Frank Johnson, "And I had absolutely no idea how to help them. It was during that time I began searching for something better than what we had to offer, which was typically jail. Now, somewhere in there, Mickey Jackson actually talked to me about the Ozark Guidance Center."
Ozark Guidance offers a variety of services for children, families and adults, ranging from individual, group, and family therapy; therapeutic day treatment; residential housing; to school-based services. Help is always available, and the results are life-changing for the patients, families, and friends. Amy Anschutz, an Ozark Guidance Auxiliary Member, became acquainted with Ozark Guidance's services after her young son was enrolled in our therapeutic day treatment program.
"We got in. We had a couple months that were tough," said Amy Anschutz, "You know, not very many good days, but right before spring break of, I think 2008, he just seemed to get it, and started having good days and his bad days were fewer and fewer, and he went to the summer program there and just got up every morning, happy to go. He really loved it there. He loved his teacher. I just got my little boy back."
After a year in the TDT program, Amy's little boy went back to public school and is doing well today. This is just one example of how effective mental health treatment can be for children, families and adults.
" When I was a counselor in schools, I had a little girl come in to me," said counselor Diane Shaw. "She was probably ten or eleven and she was struggling with some issues in her family and some things were going on. And she said, after we talked for a little bit, she said, "I feel so much better," she says, "Nothing's changed. Everything's still the same at home, but I feel like I was carrying around a big sack of rocks, and then I dumped them all out. And I don't have to carry them around." And I was just thinking about Ozark Guidance and I can't imagine how many rocks had been dumped here and how many people have gotten that kind of relief just from sharing whatever issues they were concerned about. And there'd be big mountains around all our facilities, I think with all those rocks."
"It's a really unique organization that Northwest Arkansas has to be able to have all these services under really one umbrella," said Eric Edelstien. "It's very unique to get that support in as discreet or indiscreet of a way as possible and I think that more people need to take advantage of it."
The mission of Ozark Guidance to save and change lives will carry on as people continue to see and understand that the face of mental health challenges embodies all of us. We will all walk on the 26-20 journey during some time in our lives, and Ozark Guidance is available to help when the rocks in our lives become too heavy to carry alone.