By Barb Arland-Fye
While competing in Miss Iowa pageants, Emily Fall said she chose to promote education about depression as her platform because of her personal experience with the illness. Other contestants asked, “What do you have to be depressed about?” For Emily, the question underscored the importance of education about depression, which she and her mom, Ann, live with. Mother and daughter also enjoy healthy, normal lives. That message of hope is one that Emily and her dad, Joe Slavens, shared during the NAMI kickoff luncheon July 17 at Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse in Moline, Illinois. Nearly 200 people attended the luncheon which launched the fundraising season for the Quad Cities’ affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Father and daughter spoke eloquently about the impact of mental illness on their family and their desire to bring light to the subject. “Our family has significant experience with serious depression,” Joe said. “I was lucky enough to receive some training about how to identify the disease and that medication is available and effective. When my wife, Ann, began to suffer from its symptoms, we were able to get her treatment that saved her life.”
Joe wants other families who live with mental illness to know that they are not alone. Answers and help are available. “Mental illness is a disease. It’s not something someone did wrong,” added Joe, president and CEO of Northwest Bank & Trust Co. in Davenport.
Emily, now a stay-at-home mom of twin infants, remembers being in the fourth grade and feeling scared when her mom was hospitalized. As the oldest of the Slavens’ three children, Emily said she was always an anxious child. That anxiety grew unbearable during her freshman year at the University of Iowa. Her mother understood what Emily was going through and, as a result, Emily got the help she needed to continue her studies and daily activities.
He may have been preaching to the choir, but Dennis Duke, president of the Robert Young Center in Rock Island, Illinois, challenged the audience “to learn more about mental illness. Our community is much stronger when we have the capacity and compassion to understand mental illness.”
Michael Freda, board president of NAMI Greater Mississippi Valley (NAMI’s Quad-City affiliate), observed that mental illness is “an equal-opportunity offender” that impacts people from all walks of life. He described mental illness as “a no-casserole disease.” People bring casseroles when someone has a physical illness or injury, but not for a mental illness, he noted.
Emily and Joe received a standing ovation for their efforts to alleviate the stigma. They’ve gone public with a story that many individuals in their place would have kept private. They’re even serving as honorary chairs for NAMIWalk, to be held Sept. 26 at Ben Butterworth Parkway East Shelter, Moline. Proceeds from the walk — one of 84 to be held nationwide this year — support free education and support programs for local families living with mental illness.
“Every member of a parish can be supportive of someone living with illness. NAMI provides information and resources for those living with mental illness and those supporting them, in ways that complement the profound power of faith,” said Kent Ferris, director of the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action office. “In so doing, we are able to help people maintain their dignity, one of the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching.”
Parish nurses in the Davenport Diocese know about NAMI and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) as resources to share with parishioners. The diocese’s Social Action office also co-hosted a webinar with NAMI on mental illness information and resources. That video is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7VTIomHBm60. You can also visit the NAMI Iowa website at www.namiiowa.com and NCPD at www.ncpd.org.
Like the Slavens family, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental illness or to share a casserole because of it.