Counseling faculty win ‘Say it Out Loud’ award

Barbara Johnson
Barbara Johnson

NIU’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education is a recipient of a coveted 2012 “Say it Out Loud” Mental Health Grant.

Awarded to 10 communities each year by the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, the grant is a multi-year statewide campaign: Current research indicates that the best way to reduce the discrimination associated with mental illness is through creating community dialogue in which people can engage in opportunities to share experiences and knowledge.

NIU will engage in a three-tier campaign during the 2012 calendar year.

In the spring, the development of a Say It Out Loud website will offer the university and community members a reliable source for information about mental illnesses, treatment and support resources on campus and in the community, and suggestions for discussing mental health concerns with medical providers, educators, and family members.

In the fall, the university will host a 2012 Say It Out Loud Week that will showcase public speakers, book discussions, a film series and other opportunities to learn about mental illness, how to talk about it and how to get help.

Ongoing will be a community effort to formally educate the public and university though the development of presentations covering mental health awareness that can be catered to classrooms, religious and community groups and businesses.

Toni Tollerud
Toni Tollerud

“As a professional counselor and educator, I am delighted that NIU is a recipient of this grant. As a community, we have an excellent opportunity to raise awareness and increase support for students, faculty, staff, and community members who struggle everyday with a mental illness,” said Toni Tollerud a Presidential Teaching Professor in the College of Education.

“Through education and the sharing of stories, we hope the opportunities provided in this grant will advance mutual understanding and communication across our campus and in our community.”

It is believed that mental illness strikes 20 percent of the U.S. population regardless of age, race or socio-economic class and, at any given time in Illinois, 700,000 adults are living with diagnosable mental illnesses.

Yet 70 to 90 percent of people with serious mental illness can experience a significant reduction in symptoms and improvement in the quality of life if they are diagnosed and treated early. Most importantly, mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing.

“We live in a society that is becoming increasingly more aware of our diverse makeup and the importance of being sensitive to the uniqueness of all individuals. However, that sensitivity is not always extended to those with mental health concerns,” NIU counseling professor Charlie Myers said.

Charles E. Myers
Charles E. Myers

But “the federal mental health parity act of 2010 recognized that mental health are as just as important and valid as physical health and deserve the same level of care,” Myers added.

“The Say It Out Loud grant will help to spread the word about mental health and to educate our community that having a mental health illness is no different from having a physical illness. We need to change the way we look at mental health; struggling with depression deserves the same respect and compassion as struggling with cancer.”

Believing that the best way to begin the conversation is to become aware of how people live meaningful lives in the face of mental illness, the grant team is calling for volunteers with diagnosed mental illnesses willing to share their stories with the community.

Volunteers will be given the decision of whether names will be disclosed.

For more information on this or other ways to assist the grant team, email siol.niu@gmail.com. All inquiries will be kept in strict confidence.

For more information, “Like” Say It Out Loud – Northern Illinois University on Facebook where regular updates will be posted.

Chaired by Barbara Johnson, the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education is committed to preparing multi-culturally competent counseling professionals for school, community and higher education settings who can facilitate positive change in the development and interactions of diverse individuals throughout their life-spans.

The department offers master’s and doctoral programs that are nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

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