2012-09-21 / Community

Area rep will be on panel about mental illness

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The medical field has come a long way in the last few years, as doctors and researchers continue to work to find more effective treatments for patients who have illnesses such as cancer, HIV, diabetes or asthma.

But Donna Murphy, communications director at Maine Mental Health Partners, said patients who have mental illnesses must still fight the stigma that has remained present in society throughout the years.

“Those perceptions are very deeply rooted. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Murphy said.

Combating that stigma is a “tough nut to crack,” Murphy said, but a group of mental health professionals and community members are working to educate the public about the realities of mental illness.

The group, It Takes a Community will host a forum on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at Portland Public Library to help spread its message. The event will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and will feature three community leaders who will read stories from fellow community members about true experiences of life with mental illness.

One of those speakers is Jane Eberle, representative to the Legislature in District 123 for South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. She will be joined by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Kevin Mannix, meteorologist at WCSH 6 news.

Murphy said the group brought in local celebrities in an effort to bring awareness and spark discussion about mental illness.

“We wanted to reach out to other folks in the community who would help draw some attention to this issue. Each of them have demonstrated a real interest in wanting to do more,” Murphy said.

Eberle said discussions with the public are important in fighting the stigma of mental illness.

“People of my generation, we were raised with the attitude that you would never talk about something like that,” Eberle said. “People were institutionalized, marginalized in some way, or told to just suck it up, shake it off, get going.”

While there has been progress made over the years, Eberle said there is still a ways to go in that fight.

“There’s still, to a certain extent, a shyness for people to say it out loud, or address it. You never know what to say to someone,” she said. “It’s really an awkward situation as to how to talk to someone frankly and openly, how to recognize it and be comfortable.”

Through her four terms in Maine’s house of representatives, Eberle has worked closely with Maine Medical Center’s Portland Identification and Early Referral project. The projects works to identify early signs of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and clinical depression to prevent the onset of those diseases, especially in young people.

“I have always thought prevention of anything is the best way to treat it,” Eberle said.

Eberle’s connection to the program goes beyond just her work in the Legislature. She said the program helped a family member who was a participant.

“It was a fantastic tool and really taught us a lot as a family as to how to deal with these issues,” Eberle said.

Eberle is finishing her fourth and final term in Augusta this year. She is not eligible for re-election this November because of term limits.

The It Takes a Community forum is free and open to the public, but seats are limited. To register, call 761-2239 or email markgv@memhp.org.

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