The Edmond Sun

October 8, 2012

Vigil honors suicide victims

NAMI offers mental health survivors hope

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Standing on a rain-soaked platform as night closed in on Hafer Park, Madinah Hazim-Adams talked about her struggles — and triumphs — with depression.

Adams said she still remembers the sudden pull of her hamstring the moment when she stumbled out of the starting block while she was a track athlete in her junior year at the University of Kansas.

She collapsed to the track in pain, and knew the injury would dramatically change her life. However, she did not realize the moment would be the start of a journey that would mold her into who she is today.

“This journey I speak of is recovery,” she said. “Many of you in the crowd tonight are very familiar with recovery and mental illness or you know someone whose life has been affected by mental illness.”

She said her life, and the lives of others in her family, also have been affected by mental illness. Having track and field taken away from her at age 21 plunged her into her first bout of major depression. She was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder.

Adams said she is somewhat recovered thanks to support from her family and medical treatment. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas, married and moved to Colorado with her husband.

After moving to Oklahoma, she received a call from her sister telling her that their mother had died from a heart attack.

“She was my best friend, and this sent me spiraling,” Adams said. “She was gone. The one who held my hope was gone. The one who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself was gone.”

That was slightly more than two years ago, but her spirit lives on, Adams said. Following her mother’s death, she went through some dark days, she said. Her husband and family encouraged her to go to outpatient therapy.

“I just thank God that I did,” Adams said. “It was one of the best things I could have ever done.”

After completing the program, she got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Oklahoma chapter. She discovered that she had a passion for working in mental health. She said she felt like she fit in at a place where others could see the illness is not the end of the world, she said.

“I see myself as a survivor,” she said. “I found myself.”

Today, she is a case manager and recovery support specialist at NorthCare’s North Rock Medication Clinic where she sees people take their first step toward recovery every day.

“I share my story to illustrate that if you are given the diagnosis it’s not the end of your life,” she said. “You can recover and reclaim your life.”

The organization was in Edmond to promote mental health awareness and to promote that mental health survivors enrich the lives of those around them, said David Gordon, executive director of NAMI Oklahoma, which sponsored a candlelight vigil Sunday evening in Hafer Park.

“In the light of our candles, we can choose to reach out to our friends, our neighbors and, perhaps, a complete stranger,” Gordon said. “And we can lift another’s burdens and acknowledge the inherent worth in all people. Let our message tonight be to not only end stigma, but to end discrimination toward anyone with mental illness.”

The vigil was held in conjunction with Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13. Edmond Mayor Charles Lamb issued a proclamation declaring local support for raising awareness in Edmond.

Edmond native Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said one in 10 percent of Oklahomans suffer from undiagnosed mental illness and addiction. Mental illness is a disease like any other disease, and there’s hope like there is for any other disease, she said.

In addition to honoring those who lost hope, who lost their lives due to suicide, participants were there to celebrate recovery, White said.

She mentioned cancer and diabetes centers popping up across the state and said it’s time for new mental health facilities to be built as well. People need to know there’s a place to go, a place of hope, a place that doesn’t look like it’s 100 years old, White said.

“Because the most important organ in our body is our brain,” she said. “It tells our heart when to beat. It tells our lungs when to breathe. It’s our command center, and the thing that we need to have the healthiest (life).”

Every Oklahoman deserves the opportunity to have a healthy brain, White said. She thanked those who came that are in recovery, saying that they are lighting the way for others. Oklahoma has come a long way, but it’s time to end discrimination against mental illness, which should be treated like any other disease, White said. | 341-2121, ext. 108