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Rotary Happenings: Halt shares information about ‘Bridges of Hope’ at Rotary meeting
June 14, 2017

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Do we walk the walk, or just talk the talk? We can all agreed that mental health is an important issue of our day and voice our concern on the topic, but really only pay full attention to this issue, when someone close to us is personally suffering with a mental health problem and realize how difficult it is to find help for them, or read something catastrophic in the newspaper.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary's guest speaker on June 2 was Joanne Halt from NAMI's "Bridges of Hope" faith based program. For those that don't know about NAMI, it is the National Alliance on Mental Health for Lee, Charlotte & Hendry Counties here in Southwest Florida. NAMI provides education, training and support programs for individuals, family members, providers and the general public regarding a number of topics dealing with individuals that suffer from mental illness. This organization trains those that are on the front-lines in crises situations dealing with the mentally ill; police, first responders, correction officers, emergency dispatchers, college campus police, etc. They are a referral helpline and with the help of organizations like "Bridges of Hope" bring understanding of mental illness to anyone faced with this reality in their lives. "Bridges of Hope" basically grew out of necessity.

Halt first gave us some amazing facts about mental illness: one in five adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental illness each year, 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begins by age 14; 50 percent of all students over age 14 with a mental illness drop out of school and the average delay between onset of symptoms and treatment intervention is eight-10 years. Now that brings us to some catastrophic statistics regarding mental health treatment here in Florida.

Florida's ranking on mental health expenditure, 49th out of the 50 states, out of 67 counties in Florida, Lee is 67th out of 67.

Halt said, "this is a shipwreck."

She told her own personal story. Her brother had a pretty good life on the surface, good businessman and family man, but at 40 years old he was struggling with his marriage, which lead to a divorce. On the cusp of this life event, his life fell apart. He was in financial trouble, his marriage was over. He took a nose-dive, he had a psychotic break. A mental health condition probably lead to the divorce, but after that he could not hold on. At the time of her brother's psychotic break, treatment consisted of heavy drugs or a physic ward. Halt's brother was given drugs and basically slept away the next 16 years. Her aging parents bore the responsibility for caring for him trying by provide a loving and caring environment in their home, but when they died he couldn't see his way alone. As with her other siblings their was shame, resentment, and guilt about their brother's mental health condition. They offered to help, but he didn't take the help. He died during a fire at the family home. Halt couldn't state that he was the cause of the fire, but couldn't rule that out.

She knew she had to share her experiences with others and joined "Bridges of Hope." The mission of this organization is to help families and friends of those suffering from mental illness share their experiences and provide information on dealing with loved ones gripped by mental illness and the impact it makes on families and caretakers.

"Bridges of Hope" is a faith-based program and the reasoning behind this is that in time of crisis many turn to the church for help. Lee County certainly has more faith-based facilities then mental health facilities and the ability to use faith as a foundation for love and understanding of someone suffering with a mental health condition is the core of this program.

For information regarding where the "Bridges of Hope" meetings are held, contact NAMI at 239-337-9024.

All of us should contact our public officials and demand more of our tax-payer dollars be spent on mental health. We need to take action. We need to demand action. This effects everyone in our community, many who are suffering with mental illness can be helped, but the help needs to be there. Lee County isn't doing enough, in fact, statistics say basically they are barely doing anything. Mental illness is not a choice.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets on Friday morning at 7 a.m., at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club. Guests are always welcomed.

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