Former broadcaster, mental health advocate praises NAMI work
The Daily Record - 8/25/2019
WOOSTER — When Loree Vick’s daughter was 16 and headed off to a church retreat, the teen’s father wrote her a short letter.
In it, he talked about how happy he was that he was her father and how unique and special she was. He talked about faith and love and wrote “only when you love and value yourself can you love and have healthy relationships with others.”
Six months later, he was dead by his own hand.
Vick, the former Cleveland Fox 8 news anchor, recalled her husband’s suicide as her defining moment as she spoke Thursday to those who came to First Presbyterian Church for the NAMI of Wayne and Holmes Counties Annual Gathering.
It was 4:57 a.m. on March 5, 2005, when a police officer came to the front door of the family home and gave Vick the news. “It is like a bomb just explodes in your heart,” she said.
She was left, she said, with all kinds of feelings and “the glaring stigma of shame.”
“I went to bed many nights saying, ‘God, don’t let me wake up in the morning,’” she said.
But Vick had two children. She also had a friend who told her, “Loree, don’t waste that pain.”
In the years since, Vick has become a mental health advocate, speaking out, she said, “so other families don’t experience the loss and the tragedy” her family did.
To reduce the stigma of mental illness, she said, it’s important to dispel three myths: that it is a sign of weakness, that people with mental illness and the families who love them are somehow alone, and that a person with a mental illness is responsible for it happening.
Vick said her husband struggled with bipolar depression, though at the same time, “he was so vibrant. He was full of life. ... He was wicked smart. He was popular at work. We had friends.” She also believes the seeds of his depression were planted early in his life, which is part of the reason she is an ardent supporter of LifeAct, a nonprofit that goes into high schools and middle schools and talks with students about recognizing the signs of depression in themselves and others.
“My husband didn’t think it was OK not to be OK,” Vick said, and though she helped convince him to seek counseling, privacy laws prevented her from knowing how those sessions were going. And when she told the counselor she found her husband cutting his face out of all their family photos, he still invoked the privacy law, instead telling her that her husband “had to hit rock bottom” first and he would speak to him at his appointment the next day.
“John didn’t show up for that appointment the next day,” Vick said. “And the next day, he took his life.”
Vick applauded the work NAMI has done locally, including the MOCA House Recovery Center program and its 12-week Family-to-Family educational program for families and friends of people with mental illnesses.
“It’s really encouraging; it’s more than encouraging,” she said. “Unless you live in that dark world of depression” or care about someone who does, “you can’t imagine how valuable these resources are.”
It has been a good year for NAMI, executive director Helen Walkerly told the crowd. The MOCA House program recorded 4,495 visits, with an average of 18 participants per day. In addition, 23 law enforcement officers graduated from the 40-hour crisis intervention team training and another 16 participated in a one-day advanced CIT class.
The CIT Officer of the Year Award went to Derek Miller of the Rittman Police Department, who was nominated for the honor by Rittman Sgt. Dave Miller and officer Jared Holzman. The nominators pointed to Derek Miller’s interaction with a man who was having auditory hallucinations and said the officer “has several long talks with him and eventually got him the help he needed.” He was further singled out for his positive attitude and caring nature and for bringing the concepts he learned in CIT training back to his fellow officers.
Also honored were fellow CIT Officer of the Year nominees Chris Grabowski of the Wooster Police Department and Lesy Herbert of the Orrville Police Department. The eight former Officer of the Year honorees also were called back to receive pins honoring their efforts.
The NAMI Community Service Award was presented to board member Connie Blacksten. She first became acquainted with NAMI in 2003 when she took part in the Family-to-Family program and later trained to teach the class. Blacksten went on to develop the local Walk for Wellness, Walkerly said, which now is the organization’s biggest fundraiser. And after returning to the area after living out of state, Blacksten joined the board, helped coordinate the Family-to-Family program, does local outreach and, Walkerly said, often drops by the office for lunch on Fridays.
Steve Cook was surprised to receive the Ginger Handwerk Service Award, as the NAMI staff had convinced him to come to the Thursday event by telling him he was presenting the award to another volunteer.
Cook goes to MOCA House each Friday to run the Spirituality and Prayer program, but always starts with some jokes, Walkerly sad. He’s been a MOCA presence since 2011-12, when he started the Living with Vitality program. Cook is “always providing a fun loving and kind presence,” she said. “And one of the things you do is promote togetherness.”
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CREDIT: TAMI MOSSER