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Raising Awareness On Mental Illness

May 4, 2010, 6:17 PM by Courtney Zieller

Nearly one in four adults is diagnosed with a mental disorder every year. Everything from depression or anxiety to schizophrenia. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in North America for people ages 15 to 44.

A Sioux Falls woman is overcoming those obstacles, helping raise awareness about mental illness and hoping to remove the stigma that often surrounds them.

Susan Clift was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was just 28 years old. It wasn't what she expected to hear.

"The doctor that diagnosed me said you need to reconcile yourself to the fact that you're not going to be able to do anything more stressful than putting nuts on bolts," Clift said.

But that was a future she wasn't willing to accept. So, she didn't. Nearly 30 years later, Clift is a licensed massage therapist with a thriving business.

"There are a lot of people diagnosed and let that be the end of their hopes and dreams and I decided I wasn't going to do that," Clift said.

To look at her, you can't see the struggles she's had to overcome. What you can see is how much she values the support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI -- which puts her in touch with others like her whose lives have also been affected by a mental illness.

"It helps to have a good support system," Clift said.

"I think everyone is touched by it. There are a lot of people who have a mental illness," NAMI Board of Directors Chuck Taylor said.

NAMI's goal is to also lessen the stigma of mental illness in the community where there are often huge misconceptions. 

"In fact people with a mental illness commit less crimes, less terrible things than people without a mental illness," Taylor said.

Silencing that stigma isn't easy, but it's a goal no one here is losing sight of.

"One day at a time. It takes time and take energy and we're doing some important work with NAMI to make sure it changes," Taylor said.

"I can't say there aren't some bad days, because there are, but I don't know anyone who can actually say they don't have a bad day now and then," Clift said.

You can help raise awareness about mental illness by lacing up those walking shoes. The "Changing Minds One Step at a Time" walk is going on it's seventh year. It's being held Saturday May 15 at Sertoma Park in Sioux Falls at 10 a.m.

If you're interested in attending, you can just show up. The event is free but donations will be accepted.  Learn more at the NAMI South Dakota website.

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