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Event to ‘start discussion’ on stigma of mental illness

Lael Walz, center, and Sharon Rose, right, are organizing “Embracing the Elephant in the Room,” a conference they hope will reduce the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to seek help. Award-winning documentary producer Catherine Busch, left, filmed “The Elephant in the Room,” a six-part series Rose produced for NCTV on brain disorders, which led up to the conference.
Trina Kleist |

Embracing the Elephant in the Room

What: Mental wellness panel discussions and resource fair

When: 4 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Gold Miners Inn-Holiday Inn Express

Who: Sponsored by NAMI Nevada County (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Sierra Family Medical Center, in cooperation with Nevada County Health and Human Services Agency. 34 local organizations participating.

Cost: Free

Nevada City resident Debra Desmond’s struggle with manic-depressive illness led her down harrowing paths when symptoms surfaced as a teen.

“When I finally did get help, it saved my life,” said Desmond, who went on to become a registered nurse.

The hope that others would understand mental illness has prompted Desmond and others with NAMI Nevada County (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and Sierra Family Medical Clinic to gather inspirational speakers, community leaders and resources.



“Embracing the Elephant in the Room” is a free mental health conference from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Gold Miners Inn-Holiday Inn Express in downtown Grass Valley. It will be a “one-stop resource” for anyone affected by mental illness, organizer Sharon Rose said.

The goal: Reduce stigma and discrimination toward conditions that are rooted in physiology. Those conditions can be treated through medication, therapy, personal support and having a sense of purpose, said Lael Walz, with Sierra Family Medical Clinic.




Personal stories of Nevada County residents affected by mental illness will give a familiar face to numbing statistics: An estimated one in six adults and one in 10 children in the United States lives with illnesses rooted in brain disorders, including depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress, according to http://www.BringChange2Mind.org, an educational campaign by actress Glenn Close.

“In our county, that would be close to 16,000 people,” added Walz. “The county is only able to treat a small fraction of that, so a wider community response is essential.”

The conference also is the culminating event for a six-part television series Rose produced this summer. “The Elephant in the Room” presents stories of local people whose lives changed when they got help with their mental illness. The episodes recently aired on public access station NCTV; watch them at http://www.NevadaCountyTV.org/pages/node/82.

Conference speakers will address the impact of mental illness in five areas: education, law enforcement and justice, employment, general health, and faith and spirituality. Participants include county Superior Court Judge Tom Anderson, county Behavioral Health Director Michael Heggarty, pediatrician Sarah Woerner, businessman Bill Popola, and representatives from education and local faith groups.

Inspirational videos will be shown from celebrities including actress Close and pop-rock singer Demi Lovato, who recently revealed she has bipolar and eating disorders. District 3 Nevada County Supervisor Terry Lamphier and county Superintendent Holly Hermansen also will speak. The conference is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Grass Valley resident and freelance writer Trina Kleist can be reached at tkleistwrites@gmail.com or (530) 575-6132.


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