Kentucky Enquirer Article


reprinted with permission of Kentucky Enquirer June 24, 2005
By Deborah Kennedy, Enquirer contributor

FORT WRIGHT – Northern Kentucky mental health officials want the public to know that Millie Smiley’s story is not unique.

“We’ve all come across someone with the illness, whether we choose to address it or not,” said Denis Walsh of NorthKey Community Care.

The illness Walsh is referring to is paranoid schizophrenia, a serious brain disorder that afflicts more than 5,000 Kentuckians.

To raise awareness about the illness and resources for treatment and support, NorthKey, the region’s mental health and substance abuse services provider, along with Janssen Pharmaceutica and the National Association of Mental Illness Northern Kentucky, will be showing a documentary about Millie’s life in August at Northern Kentucky University.

Los Angeles filmmaker Susan Smiley, Millie’s daughter, shot the movie to illustrate not only the flaws in the public health systems’ handling of schizophrenia, but the trauma that results from people’s denial of the illness.

At a sneak preview of the film Thursday night at NorthKey’s regional headquarters in Fort Wright, NorthKey spokeswoman Susan Bartels said the film and planned panel discussion could go a long way toward dispelling some of the myths about schizophrenia.

“People think it can’t be cured, but it can. People think it’s different from other illnesses, but it’s really not” she said. “We need education. We need events like this and films like this so that people are not afraid or mystified by mental illness.”

Stories like Millie’s may become less common if people simply realize that mental illness, often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, does not deserve to be stigmatized, said NAMI Northern Kentucky President Joanna Noonan.

“People aren’t afraid to talk about heart disease or cerebral palsy or rheumatoid arthritis, but people don’t want to talk about schizphrenia,” she said. “They need to understand that illness does not stop at the neck and go down.”