Toledo radio host provides voice of hope
Blade - 5/1/2017
May 01--In between the back-and-forth banter of celebrity gossip and local news, listeners to the Morning Rush might hear about Eric Chase's last appointment with his therapist or a recent rough day.
Mr. Chase, one of the recognizable voices on Toledo's 92.5 KISS FM morning program, freely discusses mental health and his struggles with bipolar disorder.
It's a message he's taken beyond the air-waves. On May 13, he's serving as the co-host for NAMIWalks 2017 to benefit the Toledo-area chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness as another way to bring his message to the public.
Mr. Chase, 37, said he sought out a diagnosis for his symptoms about 10 years ago, when it was clear they went beyond "normal teenage [or] young 20s angst and indecision." That led him on a path to find the right combination of medication and therapy to keep his health in check.
It wasn't a conscious decision to start talking about his mental health on air, he said, but rather a decision to not hold anything back about his experience.
"For me to open up and be as authentic as I can be, it's that I have struggles," he said. "A couple weeks ago I had to get away from work and take email off my phone because I had sunk too far into a funk. I had to attack it aggressively, get some medication changes, see my therapist twice in a couple days. And I have no problem talking about that on the air because there are a lot of people like me."
While listeners can relate to his co-hosts' parenting or dating stories, he said he gets reactions to one of two things -- people want to talk about his dogs or they say: "'I'm really glad you talk about that,'' he said.
"People always want to have company. As much as you think you're the only one--and it really feels like that--the honest truth is you're not and there are other people like you that's very comforting for anybody in any situation."
Part of the difficulty, he said, is the work it takes to accurately diagnose mental illness, which can't been seen on an X-ray or MRI. Finding the right balance of therapy and medication is challenging but crucial, he said.
Creating a discussion in such a public forum is a community asset, said Robin Isenberg, executive director of NAMI of Greater Toledo.
"When somebody like Eric gets on the air and says "I have bipolar disorder, I have days where I struggle,' it's very helpful," she said. "People know him, tune in and listen to him. He's young. I believe that by reaching the young people, that's how we start to bust the stigma."
Mr. Chase will join Jerry Anderson of WTOL-TV, Channel 11, as co-hosts for NAMIWalks, which Ms. Isenberg called "the largest community awareness event in greater Toledo centered on mental health."
Mr. Chase jokes that he "weaseled my way into co-hosting," but said he gets involved in such events because he wants people to know help is out there.
"There are tons and tons of resources," he said. "I always tell people, 'Come ask questions.' I get that people are afraid, but this is a safe place to ask questions and you can get help."
In addition to the fund-raising aspect of the walk, the event will have information about community resources, a health fair, and activities for children and families.
It's all working toward a bigger goal of creating an atmosphere where people are able to talk about their health issues and seek the help they need, Ms. Isenberg said.
"Mental illness is still a real issue in our community and there are a lot of people who aren't being treated because of the nature of their illness," Ms. Isenberg said.
"They don't know where to turn for help, they are embarrassed or afraid they would lose their job."
NAMI's mission is "to bust that stigma" and provide education and support services to individuals and families dealing with mental illness, she said. The organization offers a variety of support groups and links to other community resources.
Though there is still a way to go, Ms. Isenberg said she is hopeful of the progress she's seen toward acceptance and understanding about mental illness.
"It's slow overall, but I think that young people are starting to talk about it now," she said. "The Millennials are not afraid to talk about these kinds of things. I think that stigma will disappear slowly but surely."
Toledo's NAMIWalks 2017 is May 13 on the University of Toledo Health Education Center on main campus. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.
To register a team, make a donation, or search for area mental health resources, call 419-243-1119 or visit namitoledo.org.
Contact Lauren Lindstrom at email@example.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.
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