Bethesda Woman Helps To End Silence About Mental Illness

Bethesda Woman Helps To End Silence About Mental Illness

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Imagine reading off an index card while someone stands directly behind you and talks loudly, non-stop.

That’s the exercise that left the biggest impact on Bethesda resident Mimi Kress when she participated in a support group for parents and caregivers of people with mental illnesses. It was meant to demonstrate what it’s like to hear voices, a common symptom of schizophrenia.

“We learned a lot about how to be supportive of that person in the right way and how to sort of understand,” Kress said.

Kress’ son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 10, which Kress she and her son eventually learned how to manage. At 21, doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia, which presented a new challenge and a lot of unknowns.

“After 10 years of the ups and downs of having a young child, a teenager dealing with bipolar disorder, this really knocked my husband and I for a real loop,” Kress said. “It was a very scary word. We didn’t know anything about it.”

Kress and her husband went to the support group at the Montgomery County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The understanding she gained from the work group led her to become a member of the Montgomery County NAMI Board of Directors.

Now Kress, the chief operatong officer at Bethesda-based Sandy Spring Builders, goes into MCPS high schools health classes for the organization’s “Ending the Silence” program, which encourages students to get help or tell their friends to seek help if they think they’re suffering from mental illness.

On May 31 at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Kress and many others from Montgomery County will be on hand for the 2014 NAMIWalk Maryland, a pledge drive fundraiser with funds going to the high school education program.

“We talk to students and we tell them how they’re not doing a friend a favor if they keep quiet and they know their friend is cutting or know they’ve thought about suicide,” Kress said. “That’s the most vulnerable population.”

Part of NAMI’s goal is to get rid of the stigma involved with mental illness. It fits in to the message former county executive Doug Duncan is telling in his campaign for the same position this primary season. Duncan dropped out of the 2006 gubernatorial primary because of his depression, something he said he avoided treatment for for too long.

Duncan was with Kress and other members of NAMI Montgomery County on Monday at Redwood on Bethesda Lane. The group held an event to promote the upcoming walk and promote its Ending the Silence program.

For more information or to make a donation, visit the NAMI Montgomery County website.

Photo via NAMI Montgomery County/Facebook

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