Hard Truths: A mental (health) note
At an event on Cushman Street, patrons, friends and intrigued individuals such as myself went to enjoy a plate of spaghetti while discussing the role Northern Hope Center plays in our community.
“We are a … safe comfortable place where you can be who you are, ” Executive Director Dave Mather said during the spaghetti dinner on March 25.
“The Northern Hope Center is an independently run, member operated, non-clinical, safe, friendly environment for people who suffer from the symptoms of mental illness,” the center’s website reads.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness found, on college campuses and universities, one in four students have a diagnosable illness and 40 percent do not seek help. Societal stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illness affects these students’ education, employment and access to care.
Mayor Jim Matherly was at the Northern Hope Center friend-raiser to welcome everyone and speak on the importance of the center.
“Stress is too big an issue in Fairbanks,” Matherly said. “These places [like Northern Hope Center] are needed.”
“[Mental illness] is not a weakness or disease; my brain is wired differently,” said Lane Delventhal, Northern Hope Center Board president. “I get anxious in crowds because I don’t know what to say, same as everyone else, but at extreme amounts. If I accept and work with it. I’m okay.”
Between 2008 and 2010 Alaska cut its budget for mental health services by nearly 35 percent, the most of any state. The Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage, Alaska’s only public psychiatric hospital, is often full, though Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has the capabilities to deal with most mental health crises locally.
Northern Hope is a place to be welcomed wherever someone is in that process of acceptance or however someone is feeling from the day to day.
“You have all these other groups that support us but [Northern Hope Center] is the life support between therapy or counseling appointments,” Delventhal said.
Asking if there was anything he thought those at the university should know about mental illness or the Northern Hope Center Delventhal explained there are high functioning and low functioning forms of mental illness.
“Just because someone has a fancy job doesn’t mean you don’t have mental illness,” Delventhal said. “It’s not conditional of being born that way. No matter what [sort of mental illness] it can be confusing. Finding support networks, or a supportive environment, people who can be there with you: that allows you to get through the worst.”
One in five U.S. adults have a mental health condition with greater rates among poorer communities, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit focused on the needs of those living with mental illness. Research supports a strong relationship between serious mental illness and poor economic, social and health outcomes making poverty both a determinant and a consequence of poor mental health.
Routine stress, like many of us in school may feel, can contribute to serious health problems both physical and mental. UAF students can receive 5 counseling sessions per semester at no charge as part of their Health Center fee.
The Northern Hope Center is open for those with mental illness to stop in for a meal, a game, conversation or a quiet supportive space from Monday through Friday, Noon – 4 p.m. Volunteers can come during the afternoons and learn more at the website.
The Fairbanks branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness runs four scholarships for UAF and rural campuses students living with, or working to decrease the stigma of, mental illness.