Support groups for mental illness

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— Who are the mentally ill? How many of them are out there? Just what is their problem? And why should any of us regular people care?

To find a person who suffers from some form of diagnosable mental illness, one need only go for a stroll down Lincoln Avenue. About every fourth person you pass will fit the bill.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 44 million adults suffer from some form of mental illness.

Additionally, it is estimated that around 20 percent of children have mental disorders. Add to these figures the families and friends whose lives are directly impacted by struggles of someone trying to cope with mental illness -- say each person impacts four others -- and, well, you do the math.

The problems of the mentally ill are manifold and fairly frightening: debilitating depression, delusions, hearing voices, disrupted thought processes, bouts of manic behavior and paranoia, to list a few.

It is probably impossible to imagine what it is like to suffer from an episode of mental illness and that may be just as well.

For example, the voices the mentally ill hear are not friendly. They are most likely trying to convince the person to harm him or herself.

Common human decency and a sense of enlightened self-interest dictates that we care about the mentally ill. One thing individuals can do when confronted with mental illness that touches someone they care about is get involved with a support group. Just as a person suffering from mental illness cannot affect their own cure, their friends and family will also need help in understanding and coping with the situation.

A support group provides a confidential, nonjudgmental setting where people whose lives are affected by mental illness can share experiences and offer assistance and encouragement to each other.

Knowing that there are others experiencing and surviving what seems an almost impossible burden can provide the strength to soldier on another day.

Jenny and Charles Lorch are the parents of a daughter suffering from mental illness. Residents of the area since 1997, they volunteer at Yampa Valley Medical Center's Community Health Resource Center and have helped start the Steamboat Mental Health Education Support Group.

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