The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Erie County hosted a free discussion panel last Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Edinboro University, to educate students, faculty, and community members about mental illness and the local services available for those with an illness.
The panel consisted of several prominent individuals, who have first-hand experience in the mental health field or have been personally affected by a mental illness.
The experienced panelists included: Jennifer Young, NAMI board member and clinician at Safe Harbor Behavioral Health; Pete Ostrander, graduate of the Peer-to-Peer program and current Edinboro University student; and Kathy Bruno, graduate and teacher of the Family-to-Family program.
Executive Director of NAMI Erie County, Denise Kolivoski, was also present at the panel, along with Erie County Care Management member, Sheila Silman, who was the moderator for the “Behind the Scenes of Mental Illness” panel.
Kolivoski opened the panel by briefly discussing the history of NAMI and how the organization “can help those living with a mental illness.” Kolivoski shared that NAMI is a national organization first established in 1979, and is “devoted to offering mental health education and support for those struggling with a mental illness.”
Additionally, the NAMI of Erie County was first established in 1984 and is a local non-profit organization that offers a variety of support groups and educational courses for those in need of mental health aid. The local organization offers two different support groups: a peer support group and a family support group.
Kolivoski expressed the panel was necessary for not only educational purposes, but public awareness purposes as well.
“When people are educated they know how to react to someone with mental health conditions, they know how to treat people, and they get to see the person and not the illness,” Kolivoski said.
Throughout the panel, the panelists conveyed their different perspectives on mental illness and shared their personal experiences with mental illnesses.
Pete Ostrander, graduate of NAMI’s Peer-toPeer program, shared that he lives with bipolar disorder and that the disease has impacted his life immensely.
Ostrander stressed the importance of accepting those with mental health issues. “It is important that you just look at the personality.”
In addition to Ostrander’s experiences, Bruno shared her son’s personal experiences and her parental perspective on raising a child who has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Kathy revealed that her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger, and before NAMI, struggled exceedingly with his illness.
However, after seeking the aid of NAMI, Bruno, and her son, improved greatly, and became advocates for the nation-wide program. “I think it’s very important to speak out, so that other people aren’t afraid to speak out. It’s not something to be afraid of,” Bruno said.
Bruno also offered advice to parents raising children with a mental illness. “Don’t give up. Seek the groups. NAMI is a great support group. Just keep fighting.”
The hour long panel concluded with professional clinician and NAMI board member, Jennifer Young, stressing how important it is for individuals living with a mental illness to seek help. “Seek help. Don’t be afraid to get help,” Young said.
Young also remarked that many of her previous patients recall seeking help as the “best thing they ever did.”
Young also gave advice as how to properly deal with an individual struggling with a mental illness.
“Have patience with what they’re going through, and let them direct you a little bit, cause it can be scary for the individuals dealing with it too,” Young explained.
In addition to hosting the panel, NAMI, along with Edinboro University’s department of psychology, placed 1,100 backpacks around Compton Hall in honor of the students who have committed suicide at college within the past year.
“We wanted to remember those folks that have passed, and know that suicide is preventable and education like tonight’s event really helps educate the community on different resources and community outlets that can help prevent suicide, and might make life livable,” Kolivoski said.
For more information about NAMI or mental illness education opportunities, go to namierie.org/about.
Macala Leigey is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.