Gov. Scott Walker attends Mental Health Awareness Month kickoff

Mental health supporters gather to ‘stand up against stigma.’

Gov. Scott Walker’s sons have had their share of sports injuries, his wife Tonette lives with Type 1 diabetes, and his dad suffered from depression after he retired as a minister.

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Amanda Matthews, executive director of the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection, displays the Mental Health Awareness Month proclamation presented by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

“I share that because in each of those cases, that’s part of our health and well-being,” said Walker, who shared his personal story at the second-annual Mental Health Awareness Month Kickoff in Appleton on May 1. “(Mental health) is part of our health and why last year, working with folks here and across the state, we put more resources – $28.9 million, the most we’ve put in 30 years, into mental health services.”

Walker was joined by state and local leaders, mental health supporters and community members who gathered at Riverview Gardens to share their stories and commitment to fight stigma and improve mental health services and supports in the community and beyond.

“I received my technical diagnosis in a mental hospital after I had experienced my first, full-blown, panic attack the day before my 20th birthday,” Lawrence University student Anastasia Skliarova told the crowd of more than 150 gathered for the event.

Anastasia went on to describe her recovery journey back from debilitating anxiety and depression and how she has reclaimed her life with treatment and support from others.

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Anastasia Skliarova, a Lawrence University student, shares her story with local media.

“If we are to be supportive, compassionate human beings, we must offer respect and understanding, unconditionally, to all who are struggling,” she added. “We must find the connection between those around us and ourselves, for we have all experienced pain. We must show that we care and that we are willing to listen, because asking for help can be the scariest thing in the world, and by offering help and support, you might very well become the spark for a person’s recovery.”

Gov. Walker applauded Ms. Skliarova and the other presenters for speaking out in support of those affected by mental illness.

“Your testimonies today are a great reminder of a moral imperative to break the stigma of mental illness,” Walker said. “I would like to add that practically, it’s also an economic imperative. When we have people suffering from mental illness who have yet to get the treatment they need, those people are sitting on the sidelines and are not engaged in our workforce.

“We need to have everyone who is able – or wants to work – be able to work, and part of that is making sure that people who mental health treatment or assistance are able to get it.”

Mike Veny, a New York-native, professional drummer and mental health consumer, made a special appearance at the kick-off event. Veny, a nationally known mental health speaker, was in town to give a keynote address at the NAMI Wisconsin 2014 state conference held May 2-3 at the Radisson Paper Valley.

As Veny discussed the stigma surrounding mental illness, he referenced a cartoon he had seen recently on Facebook.

“It was kind of like an old comic book-style cartoon, and in box number one, it said if you have a cold people will comment ‘feel better,’” he said.  ”In box number two, it said if you break your arm, people will sign your cast. In Box three, it said if you go to the hospital, people will come visit you, give you cards and you might even get a stuffed animal. In box number four, it said if people find out you have mental health issues, they need to get far away from you.

“We as a society are very uncomfortable talking about things above the neck. You’ll see celebrities put their vasectomies online, but we are afraid to talk about mental health issues.”

Veny went on to encourage the crowd to do three things “to continue to transform stigma into strength.”

I encourage you to take care of yourself, to keep mental health in the conversation when you leave here today and look for teachable moments,” he said.

Erin Davisson, WFRV TV news anchor, emceed the hour-long program which also included comments from Sue Jungen of Affinity Behavioral Health; Jean DeKeyser of ThedaCare Behavioral Health; Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna; Wilson Middle School Principal John Magas; Dr. Doug Moard, a family physician; and a video address by Congressman Reid Ribble.