Several moons ago, my good friend and skilful blogger, Duane Sherry (www.discoverandrecover.wordpress.com) and I discussed the need for an alternative to NAMI,  the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. NAMI is a long-standing group that advocates with one hand while taking big bucks from Pharma with the other, in order to push the latter’s medication-as-salvation agenda.

After realizing it wasn’t the right time (yet!) for a National Alliance for Mental Wellness (NAMW), we reconsidered that good ol’ dictum about thinking big but acting locally. Duane hooked up with John Breeeding, PhD, to fight the good fight in Texas, working to stem the tide of foster kids immobilized with antipsychotic cocktails. He’s testified before legislators and he and Breeding are still on the move.

I too have a warrior’s heart but like Duane balance that with an abiding interest in natural healing.  It seems that both motives are served by encouraging individual choice regarding alternatives for mental wellness. If enough people question the drug-route and transform those regimens into a nutrient path, Pharma will feel the pinch. But how to go about this?

Information, congregation. Proliferate ideas widely, but share and support in small groups.

That was the thinking when I conceived of a series of events in the progressive university town of Lawrence, Kansas, about 20 minutes from my rural home.  I had concerns about the reception of this idea. Around here many sport the bumper sticker: Kansas: As Bigoted As You Think.

Yet Lawrence is much more of a free zone, and many who can’t hack the conservative atmosphere of our state come here to work, study, play and still reap the benefits of living in a relatively small town. But like any city, we have our homeless, our “chronically mentally ill,” and our persons of all incomes and lifestyles living lives of quiet desperation.

My first task was to find a sponsoring group. A local peer-support recovery center was initially warm to the idea, then backed off fearing it would promote anti-medication concepts. A natural-foods education foundation refused to offer a class with such a “negative” word as depression, for fear those attending would cry and emote on site.

I approached the Women’s Health Discussion Group, a democratic organization that had been solidly active for a several years, and they offered immediate support and publicity, including throughout the entire night of the event.

It was later I got the idea of starting a Heartland Safe Harbor chapter. The founder of Safe Harbor International, Dan Stradford, was very supportive. It helped–no, it was vital–to have his backup and that of the Safe Harbor online community to draw on. Even though this fledgling chapter was one person, in spirit and support there were many of us.

The reason I’m taking time on these particulars is because I want anyone with a similar hankering to know how easy this was, if time consuming. THERE WAS NO BUDGET. The only money of my own I spent was for the paper coming out of my printer to make handouts.

The event series, “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind,” will consist of community-wide forums, 2-4 times per year, with a monthly support group meeting as a complement. The kick off event I’m describing here was on May 6, entitled, “Natural Ways to Heal Depression.”

I rented the auditorium in our kindly accomodating community hospital, where the rooms are free to groups like this.  I’d counted over 100 chairs, and when I looked around during the second half of the program, every seat was filled.

Our town’s newspaper ran a very favorable article that promo-ed the event several days ahead of time, and kept it on their daily published calendar too. I’d written a press release that I sent, well, everywhere. To the few large media outlets as far as Kansas City (not very far) of course, and to every small niche newsletter in the area I could find. Unless the topic was a complete stretch–and it wasn’t for most. Everyone is touched somehow by depression these days.

It was actually fun to keep an eye out for unique networks and publications for publicity. I learned a lot.  For example, there are many student groups based on campus, with their contact email addresses available online. What kept me sleuthing out avenues to promote the event was that I truly believed it would be historic, at least in northeast Kansas. If one more person got the word, the grassroots was served.

What amazed me was how generously people wanted to help. A local natural foods restaurant that’s recieved national press, is run by a woman who is gluten-free and dairy-free herself, as are many of the menu items. Hilary Brown of Local Burger catered the event for free. She also brought all the AV equipment we needed with her husband to run the show, spoke of her health journey and showed a DVD. And she did this on her 40th birthday!  The local food co-op, Community Mercantile, donated a gluten-free, dairy-free cake just to thank her for tireless work on behalf of local, organic growers and the cause of healthy food.

The clinicians I invited not only took the time to come speak for free but stayed long afterwards to answer a multitude of questions one-on-one with a queue of people. The entire feel of the event was warm and companionable–and hope-filled!

We were fortunate that Dr. Stephen Ilardi, of our own University of Kansas, is about it release a mass market book, The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs (Perseus Books). Earlier his wife Maria told me the publisher wouldn’t have books ready until the first of June . Therefore, most unfortunately, no copies available for our event.

Then to my surprise, the Ilardis walked in with a box of books. They went like hotcakes, and Dr. Ilardi got his very first taste of autographing as an author (he has published academic articles and books before).  When he wrote in my copy that I was a “true kindred spirit” it was a fine cap on a long haul of hard but happy work to midwife this truth:  there are natural methods to heal depression, with ample science to prove their efficacy.

Would you like to get folks together in your locale to talk about alternatives or complementary strategies to medication?  You might be surprised to find it’s an idea whose time has come. Let us know if you do start a group, or need to discuss how to spread the word.

My next post will delve deeper into the concepts unique to each presenter, and how the audience responded.

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