Lissa Miller, a mother of two young girls, experienced crippling pregnancy-related depression and anxiety.
Maureen Lake, the parent of a daughter who has bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, developed an autoimmune disease when she stopped taking care of herself.
Jeannie Ritter, the former first lady of Colorado, serves as a mental health ambassador for the Mental Health Center of Denver. Her goal is to shift the focus from mental illness to overall well-being.
By sharing their unique stories at the second “Time to Talk” community forum, the three women sparked a candid conversation among mothers, educators and mental health experts on parenting children with mental illness and living with mental illness.
“You wouldn’t know just by looking at me that I have some anxiety and depression,” said Miller, a Parker resident. “That I used to struggle with thoughts of suicide multiple times a day.”
Made up of individuals from the faith community, public health organizations and law enforcement, the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative aims to create an integrated mental health-care system and educate the public on mental-health resources.
The forum is in conjunction with Colorado Community Media’s eight-part series, called Time to Talk, that looks at mental health in Douglas County, specifically in areas of law enforcement, youths, seniors, the workplace and families.
The goal is to get the community talking about mental health in hopes of helping individuals who are struggling. One in five people in the U.S. lives with a mental illness, which means everyone knows someone who has a mental health problem or has had one.
The first forum on April 26 focused on the mental health of today’s youths. The second forum zeroed in on how mental illness affects families and why communication is paramount.
Ritter, the keynote speaker, kicked off the evening with an impassioned speech on the continuum of mental health. Her experience as a teacher for 10 years led her to become an advocate for mental health in all areas — from veterans to mothers to students on college campuses. Today, she serves on community boards and presents across the state.
“Many of us have lived experience, family experience,” Ritter, an engaging and high-energy presenter, said to the audience. “It’s in our places of work, it’s in our extended communities. Let’s just get our arms around it.”
The forum offered the different perspectives of two mothers.
Lissa Miller, a former licensed social worker, has a history of depression, anxiety and some post-traumatic stress from work. When she had her second child, her mental health declined rapidly. She felt like a failure. She was on-edge, irritable.
Pride and fear prevented her from seeking help. A colleague convinced her to see a doctor, who prescribed medication.
Today, Miller is thriving as a mother, wife and the owner of a health business.
“It’s OK to not be OK,” Miller, 30, said. “It’s not OK to not be OK and not get help.”
Maureen Lake’s daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression in her teens. As a mother, Lake said, she felt vulnerable, less than, imperfect. She feared for her daughter’s safety.
“I felt all the time like I had an earthquake inside of me,” said Lake, 63.
Lake’s journey changed when she learned to love herself. She shifted her mindset, made time for self-care and looked to the community for support. A former special education teacher, she now works as a life coach.
The forum ended with an open conversation among the audience, panelists and a row of mental health experts sitting at booths with resources at the back of the room.
“All of us are in these positions because we love people,” Amanda Chaney, a licensed clinical social worker, said. “We want to help.”
Parents asked for advice on how to work with children with mental health problems and substance use issues, who are oftentimes reluctant to go to school. Mothers asked for advice on how to find the right type of help. Educators and mental health professionals offered services.
The audience was left with feelings of connectedness and hope.
“The thing I want to underscore is we are all on this continuum together. One hundred percent of us have mental health,” said Jason Hopcus, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. “I think we are better together.”
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