Removing stigma and encouraging support is focus of united effort for Mental Health Awareness Month

It’s okay to have a mental illness — many people do.

It’s okay to talk about mental illness — talking helps people feel less alone.

It’s okay to get help with mental illness — life can get better.

These are three simple truths that can seem anything but simple for someone who is struggling with mental illness. They are also the key messages of a large group of individuals from private businesses, public agencies, health care and non-profit organizations, and educational institutions that have partnered to form Northland Healthy Minds.

Northland Healthy Minds has been meeting for months to brainstorm ways to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to raise awareness of mental health resources – in the workplace, schools and the community. A series of events have been planned for May, which is Mental Health Awareness month. Some of the larger events include:

. On Tuesday, May 1, various city and county leaders will gather at the Duluth Civic Center at 1:30 p.m. for a news conference and to jointly proclaim May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

At 3 p.m. at Superior City Center Park, green balloons will be released to celebrate the month and raise awareness. Green is the color for mental health awareness. City Center Park is located at the intersection of Tower Avenue and Belknap Street in Superior.

. Wear Green Day will be Wednesday, May 9, and everyone is invited to participate. Also, Enger Tower will be lit green in the evening. Studies have shown that 20 to 25 percent of people experience a mental health issue in any given year. But the rest of the population is also affected because they likely have a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker who lives with a mental illness.

. Tuesday, May 15, at 6:30 p.m., Zeitgeist Zinema will host a free showing of the documentary Suicide: The Ripple Effect, followed by a discussion led by Dr. Carolyn Phelps.

. A free community dinner and mental health resource fair featuring comedian John Moe will be held Tuesday, May 22, at Denfeld High School. Moe is the host and creator of The Hilarious World of Depression podcast. His presentation, How I Discovered How Hilarious Depression Truly Is, will explore society’s reluctance to discuss mental illness and what needs to be done about it by tracing his own experiences with depression. The resource fair begins at 5 p.m., with dinner served at 5:30. John Moe will take the stage at 7 p.m. His presentation is rated PG-13.

. The link between mental health and tobacco usage will be examined on Thursday, May 24, during a dinner and seminar hosted by Community Action Duluth, 2424 West 5th Street, Duluth. Pat McKone from the American Lung Association will provide an overview of tobacco use among marginalized communities, and talk about the disproportionate impact on those with mental illnesses or substance use disorders. A free dinner will be served at 5:15, followed by the presentation at 6 p.m.

. End the month on a happy and healthy note with Laughter Yoga, Thursday, May 31, 5 to 6 p.m. at Leif Erickson Park, 1301 London Road, Duluth. Laughter yoga is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter, which turns into real and contagious laughter. Laughter yoga brings more oxygen to the brain and body, resulting in better breathing. No special exercise equipment or workout clothing is needed for this free event.

“We know mental illness is an issue in our community,” said Shannon Jorgenson of Northland Health Minds. “It touches everyone’s lives, whether it is your friend, co-worker, or you that is battling with it. This is a way we, as a community, can help people feel safe talking about mental illness, and hopefully get the support or treatment they deserve.”

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