Mental Illness Awareness Week activities kicked off Monday, Oct. 3, with the annual Rally for Mental Health Care in downtown Rockford.
The rally took place outside the Winnebago County Justice Center and attracted dozens of supporters with signs that carried such messages as “Stop Stigma” and “Break the Silence.” NAMI Northern Illinois organized the rally with the theme of “Accessing Care and Saving Lives.”
Speakers included Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea, Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten, Winnebago County Sheriff Gary Caruana, Winnebago County Coroner Sue Fiduccia, Transform Rockford Executive Director Mike Schablaske and Rosecrance Berry Campus Director Steve Smith. Erika Montes and Tiffany Davis with NAMI shared their recovery stories and Pastor Dan Wynard from Alpine Lutheran Church delivered the opening prayer.
Steve Vrtol, director of NAMI’s Stars of Light theater troupe, served as master of ceremonies, and told audience members that they make a difference and save lives even though they might not always know it. The U.S. Congress in 1990 established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Fiduccia, Bergsten, Caruana and O’Shea spoke about work to improve public safety efforts with people in the community who live with mental illness and their families. Schablaske emphasized the importance of mental health in improving the overall health of the community.
Smith talked a bit about the behavioral health work Rosecrance does with children and adolescents at the Berry Campus. He highlighted the need for mental illness wellness checks for kids and why it’s important that parents discuss mental health with their children.
“In lean times, it is easy for organizations to stop communicating, but I’m proud to say that we have been working more closely than we have in a long time,” Smith said. “I have witnessed the benefit of group-based, recovery-oriented therapy programs both at our campus and within the schools on both the morale of families and symptom management of children. We have a long road ahead of us, but the desire is there, and the resilience of the members of this community knows no bounds.”
Parked behind the rally stage was an attention-grabbing vehicle – the Chicken Car, driven by Patrick Taylor of Dixon. Taylor and two friends drove the car on a 48-state Mental Illness Awareness Tour this year, raising money and sharing their own experiences with mental illness across the country.