Unmasking Mental Illness in Wheeling

WHEELING – Families came together to support each other and pray for those who suffer from mental illness during the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ annual candlelight service Sunday evening at the First Christian Church in Wheeling.

“This is the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week … It marks the 30th anniversary of the formation of NAMI,” said Joyce Scott, president of NAMI-Wheeling.

Scott said the service is an effort by the local support group to help shed light on the subject of mental illness and to help people recognize it as an illness like any other.

“It is an opportunity for the families to come together, as well as the consumers … We just hope that someday people will see mental illness as an illness,” she said. “We are still making progress, but there is a long way to go.”

The Rev. Maggie Sebastian, pastor of First Christian Church delivered a message of persistence and hope with her sermon of “Unmasking.”

Sebastian said people need to be encouraged to “unmask” mental illness.

“We need to be able to be open about our illnesses and not be discriminated against and know that we are in a loving community,” she said.

Seven candles were lit during the service for the seven days that the nation will lift up the concerns of people with mental illness and their families.

At the conclusion of her sermon, Sebastian simply said, “Let us unmask mental illness, let us allow the healing of body, mind and spirit to happen in a climate of love and understand.”

In addition to the annual candlelight vigil, NAMI-Wheeling is involved with many community activities that offer understanding, encouragement and support to all who are faced with mental illness and their families.

Active for more than 20 years, Wheeling-NAMI conducts monthly “care and share” meetings to provide information and support for families and individuals with mental illnesses.

In the past 10 years, the support group has mounted an anti-stigma program called “Breaking the Silence” for 14 local middle schools. The program provides information about mental illness that is designed to erase the stigma of the illness and promote tolerance and understanding. The group has a similar program in local churches, as well.

Recognizing the local need for an informal, social and educational center for mental health consumers, NAMI-Wheeling also opened a drop-in center called the Marian House-NAMI Drop-In Center in 2004. The center, located next-door to the Catholic Neighborhood Center in Wheeling, is open three days a week for consumers of mental health services who want a place to socialize and participate in various activities.