New Mental Illness Campaign "Gives Voice" to Patients

By KBJR News 1

December 23, 2010 Updated Dec 24, 2010 at 3:16 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Mary Lee is a mother of four, all of whom have been diagnosed with depression.

"It's pretty traumatic, Lee said. “It's wrenching because you want to help them so badly and at first you don't know where to turn or what to do."

All four children have beaten the odds with the help of professionals at the Miller-Dwan Behavioral Health Clinic in Duluth. But, Lee says they weren't alone.

"Unless you were in a serious crisis situation you couldn't get immediate help,” she said.

Mental Illness it's a trend medical professionals are calling an epidemic. One in five children in Minnesota suffers from a mental health problem. But, sometimes help comes too late.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, suicide in 2003 was the second leading cause of death for 15-19 years old. It was the third leading causes of death for 10 -14 years olds.

In Duluth alone, 12th grade girls are twice as likely to attempt suicide as those in the rest of St. Louis County and the state.

"Typically people show up in the system when they are in crisis, difficulty and what that creates is a bottle neck,” said Rick Gertsema, a licensed psychologist at Essentia Health in Hermantown.

Experts say awareness, not only by the victim, but by the victim's family is the key to beating the disorder. The Miller-Dwan Behavioral Health Clinic serves that purpose, but with a waiting list, officials say more can be done.

"The bottom line is we have kids who are depressed, anxious and withdrawn. We have kids who are committing suicide," Gertsema said.

A campaign underway by the Miller-Dwan Foundation, called “Give Voice”, aims to increase awareness about mental illness through TV, print and radio. At the center of it all is a new mental health facility. Officials say it will give more families access to essential mental health services.

Ron Niemi, a Psychotherapist with Essentia Health, serves on a committee pushing the project forward.

"We have a group that has been meeting for two years defining our project, looking at goals and needs of the community,” said Niemi.

The $5M dollar "Amberwing" center would provide 65 children, teens and young adults with care and support while educating the community with countless resources. Current plans show it will be constructed off Rice Lake Road near the Solvey Hospice House.

"It's our goal not only to create a facility like this, but to break the stigma and help people explain what it means,” said the director of development for the Miller-Dwan Foundation, Traci Marciniak.

Marciniak says with the new facility, medical professionals would be able to see more kids at any given time.

The foundation is currently fundraising for the project through its campaign. Organizers still have $1.5M dollars to go. A small price to pay, says Mary Lee.

"It's hard to put a price on your mental health," she said.

Officials hope to have shovels in the ground by summer 2011. They expect to have it complete by summer 2012.

For more information on the Miller-Dwan Foundation and details on how to donate, log on to:

Miller-Dwan Foundation
"Give Voice" Campaign

Written for the web by Kevin Jacobsen