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Mental illness: End the silence

Brice Perkins had no idea his daughter suffered such acute depression and anxiety that she would cry herself to sleep at night.

But after a long journey in which she got the help she needed, Brice and Emily Perkins are sharing their experiences.

"We are a father-daughter team so we can really demonstrate how families can make mental illness not be a secret anymore," Perkins said. "We are open with our story and our experience."

The duo will describe the warning signs of mental illness and suicide and how to get help during a free presentation at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the new gym at Eagle Point High School, 203 N. Platt Ave., Eagle Point.

They have shared their story with local police departments as well as middle school, high school and college students.

Their presentation for Eagle Point police was so useful officers wanted the whole community to hear the message, said Mark Slagle, school resource officer for Eagle Point High School and several other schools.

Slagle said he hopes everyone will turn out to hear the information, which can change lives.

“If we could fill the place, that would be fantastic,” he said.

Emily Perkins and her dad volunteer through the Ending the Silence Program offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

But for a long time, Emily Perkins kept the severity of her depression and anxiety to herself.

Graphic images of her own suicide would flash into her mind.

“They would come on almost like a movie,” Emily said. “They became more and more frequent. It became exhausting to try and fight these thoughts. You’re telling yourself almost moment to moment, ‘You’re not going to carry this out.’ The imagery became so intense I became afraid to be home alone with myself.”

She checked herself into a hospital, where she was evaluated and admitted to the psychiatric unit.

Therapy and medication helped Emily stabilize and cope with her symptoms. Now an adult, she lives in Jacksonville while her father lives in Medford.

Brice said signs of mental illness often start showing up in the teen years.

“We certainly want to reach out to school teachers, students and anybody with adolescent children,” he said.

The father and daughter want people to be aware of signs of mental illness in themselves and those around them. Brice said not everyone is aware of mental illness or how to help.

“I think there’s a very small segment of the population that truly gets it. In order to get help, you have to tell someone. You may have to tell more than one person before you get the help you need,” he said.

Emily said she is proof that with the right treatment, people with mental illness can have fulfilling lives.

“I’m stable and fully functional. We really want to instill in people that there is hope for living with mental illness,” she said. “We want to save lives.”

Emily and Brice’s presentation will be followed by a question-and-answer period with the audience.

The Southern Oregon chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, Jackson County Mental Health and other organizations will have tables at the event and also can answer questions about mental illness and treatment.

The statewide chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness is seeking more young adults age 18 to 35 to receive training and give presentations on their experiences with mental illness.

The organization also wants to recruit parents and other caregivers of children with mental illness to become volunteer teachers about diagnosis, treatment options and navigating school and mental health systems.

For more information and to apply for the free training, see namior.org/programs/for-program-leaders/trainings/.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Don’t ignore warning signs

Warning signs of suicide include:

-- Talking about wanting to die

-- Talking about being a burden to others

-- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

-- Displaying extreme mood swings

-- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

-- Withdrawing from others

-- Acting recklessly or looking for ways to kill oneself

If someone exhibits warning signs of suicide:

-- Don’t leave the person alone

-- Remove guns, alcohol, pills, sharp objects and other items that could be used in a suicide attempt

-- Call the Jackson County Mental Health 24-hour crisis line at 541-774-8201 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

-- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

-- If suicide seems imminent, or the person has attempted suicide, or that person may hurt someone else, immediately call 911.

Emily Perkins is hosting a presentation at Eagle Point High School about suicide awareness.{ }Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune