This all goes back to Don StJohn—Gail Ripka
By Jim Nowlan
More than 150 persons rallied this past Saturday morning at Windmont Park in Kewanee to encourage people who are undergoing mental stress (as most of us will in our lifetimes) to reach out to others for support and assistance.
The walk was sponsored by the Henry-Stark Public Health Department and the Stark County Mental Health Task Force, among other groups.
I talked with Gail Ripka, of Kewanee, long-time but now retired director of the health department, who said, “This all goes back to Don StJohn.”
Gail was referring to the late Don StJohn, of Wyoming and Toulon, who single-handedly created the Stark mental health group about a decade ago, following the Curt Thompson murders and a spate of suicides in our county.
The StJohn-inspired group has been successful in bringing mental health services to Stark County and in increasing awareness of the importance of talking openly about mental health issues, just as we do physical health matters.
At the mental illness walk, several individuals and families gave testimony, through stories of suicide and debilitating mental illness in their own families, to the importance of doing away with the stigma attached to mental illness.
This stigma makes it difficult for persons who are suffering from talking about their problems, even with their own family members, until it may be too late.
“It’s okay to speak of your pain and seek help,” said one parent of a son who committed suicide last year.
Another encouraged people “to seek out someone who cares about you, as you are loved.”
Co-chairs of the Stark County Mental Health Task Force are Sharon Sager, of Speer, and Doris Bogner, of Bradford.