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NAMI Leaders Speak Out on Stigma, Faith, and Recovery

November 2005

Along with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, several NAMI family and consumer leaders are featured in a new documentary about mental illness and the hope for recovery.

From December 4, 2005, through February 4, 2006, local ABC-TV stations will be showing -- at their discretion -- Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness, a one-hour documentary produced by Mennonite Media and the National Council of Churches.

Filming included visits to NAMI's national office and the 2005 national convention in Austin, Texas.

The program is billed as "an intimate, inside look at what it is like to live with a mental illness and how individuals and their families find their way through a tangle of mental, medical, governmental, societal, and spiritual issues." It includes interviews with Dr. Joyce Burland, founder of NAMI's Family-to-Family education program, and NAMI board member Risdon Slate, a professor of criminal justice, who once was jailed during an episode triggered by bipolar disorder.

The program focuses on people's experiences with stigma, recovery and rehabilitation, insurance discrimination, and how faith communities can do a better job responding to those with mental illness.

"Unfortunately, a significant number of our churches still see mental illness as a result of a moral or spiritual failure. Some see it as having to do with demonic possession," says Reverend Susan Gregg-Schroeder, coordinator of Mental Health Ministries of the California Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church, who is interviewed in the film. "People are encouraged to stop taking their medications, often with disastrous results. And churches are not educated about mental illness, that it is an illness of the brain."

At the same, spiritual faith and support can play a role in recovery.

"Mental illness is not a struggle between good and evil inside us. It's a brain disorder. It's a chemical imbalance," says one NAMI consumer. "It's why medication is often the key to really lifting us out of a toxic cloud. But in order to keep going, I can't see how anyone can take on that challenge without faith and a flowing of love and trust."

"I think people in congregations sell themselves short of how much of an impact they are able to have," says Debbie Miller, who lives with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"Recovery happens and we need to support recovery," agrees Lyn Leger, who as a teenager in the 1970s was admitted to the "hellhole" of a state hospital. "We need to support helping people to have enough hope in themselves and enough faith in themselves to go forward."

Local ABC stations will decide for themselves whether to broadcast Shadow Voices in their communities. NAMI members can find out local broadcast dates by checking that section of the documentary's Web site. A full list of the 10 interviewees in the film as well as excerpts from their interviews can also be found on the Web site.

If your local ABC television station is not listed, please contact its station manager or programming director through the ABC network Web site Ask them if they plan to air Shadow Voices, which is part of ABC's "Vision and Values" documentary series produced by the National Council of Churches.

If necessary, encourage them to contact the ABC network to get the film before the February 4 deadline. Offer to help publicize the broadcast date through local NAMI, church, or other community newsletters or e-mail groups.

Copies of the documentary will also be available after December 15, 2005, in VHS ($19.95) or DVD ($24.95) format, plus shipping and handling, for use by local churches and others. Call 1-800/999-3534.

NAMI's work with faith communities includes Faithnet, a network of members and friends dedicated to the development of supportive, non-threatening environments for people with serious mental illnesses and their families.