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National Alliance on Mental Illness fund-raiser set for Saturday

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    From left, Laura, Mackenzie and Bill Berry wear NAMI Toledo shirts at their home in Sylvania. Mr. Berry is the chair for the Toledo chapter of National Alliance for Mental Illness's 2018 walk on Saturday.

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    Mackenzie and Bill Berry show their matching wrist tattoos of semi-colons, which many in the mental health community have used to spread a message of not giving up.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Bill Berry wears his NAMI Toledo t-shirt.

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Bill Berry is a self-described fixer. Identify a problem, he’ll fix it. 

But when his daughter Mackenzie’s apparent “teenage angst” revealed itself to be something more serious — with episodes of self harm and running away — it hit him.

“All of a sudden it dawns on me: I don’t know how to fix this,” the Sylvania Township man said.

Then someone suggested the local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

Mr. Berry is the 2018 chairman for the NAMI Greater Toledo fund-raising walk, scheduled for Saturday at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio hospital. It’s the largest fund-raiser of the year for the local organization, which looks to connect people afflicted by mental illness and their families to education, support, and community resources. 

Mr. Berry and his wife, Laura, came to the organization looking for help and information, and now encourage other families to do the same. Mackenzie, now 17, was struggling with bouts of anxiety and depression, leaving her parents at a loss. Mr. Berry reflected on his own initial ignorance.

CTY-NAMI09p

Mackenzie and Bill Berry show their matching wrist tattoos of semi-colons, which many in the mental health community have used to spread a message of not giving up.

The Blade/Kurt Steiss
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“We tried to educate ourselves. During that period, people were saying, ‘Nobody wants to talk about it,’” Mr. Berry recalled. “And I said, ‘Why not?’ It’s the stigma.”

He acknowledges an old “just toughen up” mentality that’s been replaced by more compassion and understanding.

Families often feel adrift and alone when a loved one struggles with mental illness, said Robin Isenberg, executive director of NAMI Greater Toledo.  

“What's unique about NAMI is we really focus on that family piece,” she said. “It feels very isolating if you're supporting someone and you say, ‘No one will understand this.’ ... It's a relief. Someone understands [and] will listen.”

NAMI services include help finding a psychiatrist or therapist, enrolling in health insurance, and making connections for other support such as food banks or utility assistance. Saturday’s walk ensures the group can continue those offerings, she said.

As part of his work with NAMI, Mr. Berry has participated in crisis intervention training with area law enforcement agencies to teach de-escalation tactics and other skills to better approach interactions with people in crisis. He sees a larger benefit to being open with his family’s story when engaging with other people.

“If they know you or a family member are dealing with mental health issues, you are freed up a bit more to actually interact with those who are suffering,” he said. “Don’t worry about what others think.”

And Mackenzie agrees. Despite ongoing struggles, the junior at Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School said getting help has improved her health and family relationships.

“My dad’s made a huge change,” she said. “We used to fight with each other but we’ve gotten a lot closer now. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the experiences we went through.”

The pair show off matching wrist tattoos of delicate semicolons, which many in the mental health community have used to spread a message of not giving up. Suicide prevention group Project Semicolon offers a grammatical analogy: it’s the punctuation mark that continues a sentence when it could have ended with a period. 

To register a team, donate, or learn more about the walk, visit namiwalks.org/greatertoledo. Registration, which can be done on race day, begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, followed by the 1.5-kilometer walk at 10 a.m. Vendors representing area mental and behavioral health providers will also be on site at UTMC. 

For more information about NAMI programs, visit namitoledo.org or call 419-243-1119.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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