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Marketing mental health: advocates prep for awareness campaign

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - 5/25/2018

Jessie Close thought suicide was inevitable.

Each time she envisioned how she could die – a cold river or a gun — it lost a piece of its fear factor.

“Why have I persisted with medication? Because without it I would have most certainly killed myself,” Close said Thursday to an audience of Gallatin County health workers and advocates. “Why did I care about staying alive? Because of my three children.”

Close lives with bipolar disorder. Some days are easy to love life. Others, fear wraps around her. She’s spent hours lying on the shoes in her closest, the door closed.

She’s a Bozeman artist and mental health advocate with Bring Change to Mind, an awareness nonprofit. Her talk Thursday at the GranTree Inn in Bozeman is tied to the start of a campaign in southwest Montana to lessen the stigma around mental health.

Jason Smith, the executive vice president of Bozeman Deaconess Foundation, said the goal is to increase community understanding along with the number of people who feel OK with finding support. He said Thursday began the conversation of what that could look like.

The campaign’s a piece of what’s been building for seven months connected to a local elevating behavioral health steering committee with Bozeman Health at the helm. The cohort of doctors, health and elected officials, educators and people with a mental illness are working to spot barriers to services in southwest Montana.

Bozeman Health CEO Jason Hill said the next step is to outline an action plan to remove those barriers. That’s something he’ll take before the hospital’s board in July. He hopes other behavioral health providers will partner with them.

“We haven’t seen a statewide effort to stabilize mental health,” he said. “We know there are several voices emerging, and we hope it will inspire state policy makers to look at what’s happening in the communities to support, resource and strengthen those efforts.”

At the end of the day, the audience broke into groups to sketch out elements of the awareness campaign.

People talked about videos that could normalize men trying to seek care or show that anyone could experience a mental illness.

In one circle during the brainstorming, Public Health Officer Matt Kelley with the Gallatin City-County Health Department said it was similar to a marketing campaign.

“Marketing is showing people what you’re missing,” he said. “If we can find a way to show that people with a mental illness have a lot to give, show what we risk missing when we judge, missing about that person that is beautiful.”

An hour before, the audience listened as Bozeman artist Calen Pick describe his work. He showed slides of bright oil paintings with cascading rocks and circles overlapping rigid faces.

“It’s all from my mind,” he said. “I don’t paint from any references, just sort of in an effort to figure things out. As I’m painting, I’m thinking about things in a pretty productive way.”

Pick, Close’s son, lives with schizophrenia.

“I gave my eldest son something no one would want to give their child; I passed him the mutated DNA that caused him to develop schizophrenia,” she said.

She talked about the doctor that labeled Pick a difficult teen and suggested outdoor self-discovery. Close also talked about dropping him off at a hospital the same time she could have been dropping him off for college.

Unlike Close, Pick was plugged into help by 19 years old. Today, he says art is his career and a tool to understand the world, “and therefore, reality.”

“I feel guilty about some of the advantages I’ve been given, but it shouldn’t be a special thing where people can get good health,” Pick said.

Close said she still gets scared to “tell on” herself when her disorder feels heavy. She also gets butterflies each time she tells her experience in public.

“Perhaps this will always be so, but the line we cross is a line that we can help fade. We simply need to keep talking no matter how frightening that is,” Close said.


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