Liberty Bell Symbol For Mental Health

MHA To Hold Sixth Annual Candlelight Vigil Oct. 3

By Ginny Masullo

TFW Contributing Writer

In 1909 a recovered mental patient, Clifford Beers, formed the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. Aided by William James, who some consider the father of American psychology, Beers and his committee formed the National Association for Mental Health, known today as Mental Health America.

The symbol of MHA is a liberty bell. A bell, which was cast from actual chains and shackles used in mental institutions, rests in the lobby of the national MHA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., as a reminder of the progress made in the treatment and care of the mentally ill.

MHA of Northwest Arkansas was founded in 1956 to address the lack of local mental health services. The state hospital was overcrowded with only custodial care. There were few sources of help in the community if one was released from the hospital. With modest funding from the Community Chest and as part of the countrywide drive for community-based mental health services, MHA of Northwest Arkansas aided in the opening of Ozark Guidance Center in 1970.

MHA of Northwest Arkansas continues its mission to see that the mentally ill are provided with needed resources and are accepted into the community. The stigma surrounding those who suffer mental health problems continues.

Despite the welcome re-opening of a psychiatric unit at Northwest Health hospital, community services for the mentally ill are inadequate according to Libby Wheeler and Nancy Kahanak, members of MHA.

And the stigma regarding mental illness is alive and well, Kahanak says.

“We want people to understand more deeply that mental illness is another human condition that is no different than, say, diabetes. It is organically caused and not the ‘fault’ of the one who suffers,” says Kahanak.

To that end MHA is holding its sixth annual Candlelight Vigil on Sunday, Oct. 3 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. Speakers, who will briefly address specific areas of mental health, will light candles representing veterans, substance abusers, children, adolescents, the elderly, consumers, seniors, family members and advocates. Candles for those lost to mental illness and for those living with mental illness will burn. Finally the candle of hope will be lit.

The inspiring ceremony includes music by Broad Daylight, a women’s choral group. To conclude, Northwest MHA’s own liberty bell will be rung to symbolize the inscription of the original bell: “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.”

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