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“The more open I am,” she said, “the more people rally around me.”
Melissa Hensley is an assistant professor of social work at Augsburg College. Some of her students also know that, when she was about their age, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She was eager to share her story for Make It OK.
“We have to be realistic,” said Hensley, 44, whose story (www.tpt.org) aired earlier this month. “One public awareness campaign is not going to solve the whole problem, but the documentary helps put a face on mental illness. A diagnosis does not equal destiny.”
Dan Abdul, 34, is a U.S. Army veteran and technology executive who suffered severe depression with post-traumatic stress disorder after a military accident in 2004. A husband and father, he’s learned to identify his “triggers” and manage his disease through therapy, sleep, biofeedback, meditation and medication.
“We’re trying to get the message to people that recovery is possible and you can go out and live whatever life you choose,” said Abdul, who has lost friends who didn’t believe that his struggle was biological.
“There is nothing negative about an individual living with mental illness. We need to talk about it. If you’re going to say something, say, ‘Hey, I’m here for you if you need anything.’ For me, that’s the absolute best thing.”
Feedback about the campaign has been highly positive, said HealthPartners senior vice president Donna Zimmerman.
“But we wanted it to be more than a media campaign,” she said. “It was very motivating for our team to change the paradigm, where people feel safe to talk about their issues. Most people will get better. The stigma remains, but it’s nice to know we’re turning the corner.”