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Published: Monday, 5/12/2008

Lucas County Day in the life program focuses on mental health

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

State Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) tried to concentrate on what he was supposed to be reading but the voice loudly telling him he smelled like garbage made focusing difficult.

The angry voices, laughter, and whispers Mr. Szollosi heard were part of an exercise designed to show what people with certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, experience on a daily basis.

It was part of the day in the life program put on last week by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County. The day s activities were designed to raise awareness about mental health and recovery issues and encouraged participants to think outside the stigma.

Mr. Szollosi heard the voices and other sounds known as auditory hallucinations through a CD on a headset while trying to accomplish simple tasks, such as reading and answering questions.

The recording had laughter, whispering, and other noises, along with an angry-sounding man s voice berating the listener, saying, You are disgusting. You smell like garbage, and numerous other profane and disgusting comments.

The voices were horrific, Mr. Szollosi said. I m now more keenly aware of the challenges folks with these types of disorders face.

The exercise was held at Unison Behavioral Health Services, 544 East Woodruff Ave., an agency that serves several thousands of people every year, most of whom are suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.

Other elected officials went to various agencies funded by the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County.

State Rep. Barbara Sears, (R., Sylvania) visited one of the facilities of Neighborhood Properties, Inc., which houses people with mental illness. She met three of the residents and toured an apartment.

I found it very interesting, she said. They really do more than just house folks. They teach them how to live on their own.

Diana Hersch, public information officer for the mental health board, estimated about 50 people participated in the day s activities, which included a speech in the morning by former Rhode Island state Sen. Tom Coderre. The former legislator lost his job and became homeless in a downward spiral of alcohol, drug use, depression, and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Today, he is recovering and he travels across the country telling his story.

Lynn Olman, a member of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County and a former Republican state representative who also participated in the day s events, said it is important to draw attention to the issue of mental health, particularly for lawmakers.

At the state level, legislators have a great deal of control over budgets that impact those who suffer from mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction, he said.

During his time in the legislature, Mr. Olman, a Maumee insurance agent, championed insurance parity: requiring insurance companies to treat mental illness the same way they treat physical illness. His brother, Kurt, who suffered from depression, committed suicide many years ago.

During last week s event, Mr. Olman visited Connecting Point, which helps adolescents suffering from substance abuse and mental illness.

It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, Mr. Olman said. It just affirmed for me the fact that if we as a community don t reach out to these young people, we as a society will be taking care of them through the prison system at a later time. We can choose to either be of assistance to them now, or we will most certainly be of assistance later.

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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