Moving Mountains

She leaned back and laughed at the suggestion of equality. “Are you kidding, up until the last decade the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) was administratively outside the NIH (National Institute of Health). Isn’t that amazing! For years, the National Institute of Mental Health didn’t receive funds from the National Institute of Health. We were the poor orphans.”

What is amazing is the energy and optimism that resides in Diane Weaver. She advocates tirelessly for families living with mental illness. I had the pleasure of spending part of a morning with her and learned more than this column can relate. Her passion for educating the public to the treatability of mental illness and removing the stigma is profound. “Whole body health” is her mission and comes from a personal place.

“The whole reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because of the struggles in our family. It awakened me to the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding of these issues. The lack of equitable funding is so immense. Our family could easily be homeless now and we used over half of our retirement savings because of the current insurance system. It is devastating to see your relatives transformed by this illness, not to mention the secondary losses, financial, and often losing friends and being cut off from your relatives.”

Fortunately we now live in a time when medical research has opened a large door to understanding. New imaging technologies have dispelled the myth that mental illness is a purely psychosomatic event or a spiritual deficiency. It is biology, not a character flaw that initiates mental illness. Like the rest of the body, the mind is a physical organ subject to physical weakness. Refusing to acknowledge mental illness as a legitimate physical ailment along with a lack of funds for treatment has caused untold suffering to millions. According to the November newsletter from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), “Untreated mental illness now accounts for a larger share of our nation’s disease burden than cancer and diabetes. So, while effective treatments exist, most people who need them won’t get them.”

That is what frustrates Diane Weaver--effective treatment is not available to everyone who needs it. And the need is great. One out of five families has a member with a severe and persistent mental illness. Here in Henderson County we have mental health services available at Pardee Hospital, Park Ridge Hospital, Trend Community Mental Health Services, private providers, group homes, the rescue mission, the Clubhouse and a small after school program. Even with these services, there is much that is needed. Diane explains:

“We do not, in my opinion, have an appropriate school program for children with mental illness who cannot function in the regular classroom. There is no day treatment for children, not enough group homes and assisted living for adults, (young, physically active adults with severe mental illness are often inappropriately placed with frail elderly people due to Medicaid rules) and no assertive therapy program that identifies, educates and makes treatment attractive to those who unknowingly have mental illness. And the reality is that hospitalization and out-patient therapy is only available for three classes of people—the wealthy, those with health insurance that includes adequate mental health coverage—many policies do not--and the poor who qualify for Medicaid. The cost of therapy and medications is prohibitive for a large percentage of the population.”

Is all of this too great a mountain for her to move? She brightened altogether when I asked her, “What is your wish list?” Without a moment’s hesitation she reeled off six including public acceptance, insurance parity, more community services for families and school health classes teaching about mental illness. “Now they teach about mental health and that is good. But they need to know the warning signs of mental illness and that these illnesses can be effectively treated. They also need to know to have compassion for people with mental illness rather than making fun of mental illness. Education is the key.”

Diane Weaver along with Renée Kumor and Terri Wallace wants you to know about a very special event coming up here in Henderson County. The Pardee Foundation’s Women Helping Women is presenting a day long program entitled, “Moving Mountains, Mental Health from a Women’s Perspective” on Saturday March 2. Registration and continental breakfast will begin at 8:30 followed by seminars on topics ranging from Menopause to Depression. “Moving Mountains” is an educational event where people will learn more about mental health conditions and treatment advances. The keynote speaker will be the dynamic Ann L. Weber, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, UNC-Asheville. Of course there will be childcare and it is free with advance registration. To register, just call Caryl Dean at the Pardee Hospital Foundation at 696-4666 or The registration fee of $15.00 includes breakfast and lunch. (If you are able, you might consider underwriting a registration for a sister less fortunate.)

Caring compassionately for those less fortunate is Diane Weaver’s life’s work. She love’s being a family advocate for NAMI because “…If families are strong, the children can thrive.” Children need to be where they are loved.” So do we all. Come and help us move “mountains” as we yank mental health out of the closet and put it back into whole health where it belongs. “In a way, it’s like the civil rights movement, it’s getting this population back into the human race.” (Diane Weaver)

To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
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*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc.
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