September 20, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Event shines a light on mental illness

Patty Hutchens
Kathy Plonka photo

Ruth McKnight, a founding member of NAMI Far North, is shown at her home on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Take a Seat at the Table

What: Ice cream social and silent and live auction. Live music, family friendly.

When: Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m.

Where: Panhandle State Bank atrium, 414 Church St., Sandpoint.

Cost: $10 per person or $25 for a four-person family. Tickets are available at Eve’s Leaves, Common Knowledge Bookstore and Tea Shop in Sandpoint, Bonners Books in Bonners Ferry and Outskirts Gallery in Hope.

On the

In Sandpoint, neighbors and friends are like family. It is part of what makes this town a true community. Those involved with a relatively new Sandpoint organization, NAMI Far North, hope the people of this town will embrace community members who struggle with day-to-day challenges.

NAMI Far North is the Sandpoint chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. On Saturday, the group will hold an event called Take a Seat at the Table – an ice cream social that will bring people together to raise money and awareness of diseases that have long been misunderstood and whose victims suffer in silence due to the stigma frequently associated with mental illnesses.

“This event is both a public-awareness and fundraising event,” said Ruth McKnight, founding vice president of NAMI Far North. “We’d like to inform people about our monthly meetings and support services. We want to start using information and education to dispel the misconceptions about mental illness and enlighten the bad ideas that have contributed to so much stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness.”

Take a Seat at the Table is aimed at community involvement.

“The metaphor of the table stresses the idea that at the family dinner table, everyone has needs – needs for nourishment, conversation, connectedness, affirmation, belonging,” McKnight said. “We all have needs, but we all also have something to contribute.”

In keeping with the theme, chairs, benches and stools decorated by local artists will be auctioned off in addition to a table from a Bonner’s Ferry furniture maker and several other items including gift certificates for restaurants, a weekend getaway and quilts.

According to those involved with NAMI, mental health care receives less attention and financial support than that given to other illnesses; and that is partially due to misconceptions.

“As I listen to people talk about mental illness, I detect a pervasive underlying misunderstanding about the neurobiological nature of brain disorders. People do not think of mental illnesses as diseases like any other, such as diabetes or cancer. They think of them as character flaws or lack of will power or as someone’s fault,” McKnight said. “Few people comprehend that mental illnesses can be chemical in nature, or related to malformation of the brain itself, or can be caused by injury or be triggered by trauma.”

Since it was formed by a group of five people in 2007, NAMI Far North has grown to over 40 members. In addition to supporting and sharing with those who suffer from mental illness, the group also lends support to family and friends of those with a mental illness.

The group meets the third Wednesday of every month – with the exception of December – at Bonner General Hospital. McKnight said it provides an important service that people may not otherwise receive.

Part of NAMI Far North’s mission of educating the public on mental illness includes an 11-week class in Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry called Family-to-Family. Taught by trained NAMI family members, the course provides information, insight, understanding and empowerment to family and friends of individuals with serious mental illness.

The proceeds raised at Saturday’s event will allow NAMI Far North to expand its mission in North Idaho, including the training of law enforcement.

“We are already spearheading the Crisis Intervention Team training in the five northernmost counties of Idaho, with 22 officers already certified as CIT experts equipped to handle psychiatric emergency and mental illness disturbance call-outs with better outcomes,” McKnight said. “We plan to train and certify another 24 officers in February in a second CIT Academy in Kootenai County in February 2010.”

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