1,000 Mile Journey For Life
Earns Clifford W. Beers Award
NEW YORK CITYVOICES: May/June 2000
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By Cynthia Wainscott, Executive Director, Mental Health Association of Georgia
Stuart Perry of Georgia is the winner of the National Mental Health Association's (NMHA) Clifford W. Beers Award, the highest award NMHA bestows at its annual conference. It was presented to him on Saturday, June 10, 2000 at a Gala Dinner at the Loews L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. The following account of Stuart Perry's life clearly shows why he was selected for this high honor.
Stuart Perry knows about survival -- and he knows about victory. This 40-year-old man from Americus, Georgia did something so remarkable it will not be easily forgotten.
During his junior year in college Stuart returned home to visit his father who had become ill with what was then termed a "nervous breakdown." While at home, his father followed him into a room, held a shotgun to his own chest and pulled the trigger as Stuart watched.
Stuart quit college to run the family business, running it successfully for the next nine years. He married his high school sweetheart Pam and they started a family. He struggled to come to terms with his father's death, but felt he was living a good, full life in his hometown.
When Stuart turned 30, however, things changed. He sank into a depression. "I couldn't work. I couldn't even get out of bed. My wife and my family had to take care of me. You can't pull yourself out of this illness. With all the love from my family, with all their prayers-even from my father-in-law who's a Baptist minister-with all this support, it still wasn't enough. I finally understood how my father could have done what he did."
Stuart's road back to wellness was made difficult with periods of misdiagnosis and use of inappropriate medications to treat him. Stuart was forced to sell the family business he had worked so hard to maintain. A mental health professional finally recognized Stuart's clinical depression and prescribed an antidepressant medication, which brought him to a place where he could participate in his recovery. "When I started coming back, about the one thing I could do was walk. I walked miles and miles every day, cutting a big field of grass, walking all over town."
On May 1st, 1999 Stuart embarked on a 1,000-mile walk from his hometown of Americus, Georgia to Chicago, Illinois in the Journey for Life. He crisscrossed America in the tradition of Johnny Appleseed, except his seeds did not grow apples-they grew better lives. Walking through six states, he talked to over 10,000 people, speaking at almost 100 events and interviewed by more than 130 media outlets. His goal was to bring attention to the millions of Americans who have been successfully treated for depression. When a rattlesnake surprised him on a lonely Tennessee road he reported, "That was nothing compared to the prejudice and discrimination faced by people with mental illness every day."
Ninety days and five pairs of shoes later Stuart walked into Chicago. The President of the American Medical Association (AMA) welcomed him and accepted the thousands of petitions he had collected along the way. She pledged that the AMA would work to assure that doctors detect depression in their patients.
After a very brief rest Stuart is now back to work doing what he does best: educating the public. He has spoken in every corner of Georgia and in 13 states and is currently planning a Voter Empowerment drive, developing a consumer training module that he will teach all over Georgia. He is a remarkable ambassador carrying the message that recovery is possible, motivating his fellow Americans to action. In the best tradition of Clifford Beers, Stuart is changing the way significant numbers of people think and feel about mental illness.
Stuart Perry's Acceptance Speech
The following are highlights from Stuart Perry's Clifford W. Beers Award acceptance speech at the National Mental Health Association's National Mental Health Conference in Washington, DC, on the night of Saturday, June 10th
Earlier today, before I received the Clifford Beers Award, I toured the National Holocaust Museum. It brought back horrible memories of when I was in the hospital. Seeing photos of children with mental illness being taken away to their death was very disturbing. It gave me energy to keep working for change so that no one with mental illness will face prejudice and discrimination. We have a lot of work to do together.
Last summer when I walked from Americus, Georgia to Chicago, Illinois I felt the power of the National Mental Health Association. I felt it in the people I met. One 62-year-old man walked 75 miles with me in honor of his son. You have done the work. I just carried the torch.
When my wife called to tell me that I had won the Beers award I was planting bushes around the National Mental Health Association of Georgia's new Tom Perry PEER Center in my hometown. It is completely operated by consumers -- from the director to the job coach. It is named in honor of my father who died from depression. I have asked the staff to display the award there as a reminder to all who came there: you CAN recover.
Georgia Representatives Rally at Follow-Up Training
By Cynthia Wainscott and Laura Galbreath
NMHA's Voter Empowerment training came to Georgia on March 27 and was attended by people from Texas, Alabama, New Jersey, Wisconsin, North and South Carolina and Georgia. Project founders, Ken Steele and Joseph Glazer, inspired everyone with a description of the New York project. "Ken and Joe gave us a real sense that we can organize and make a difference in our community," said NMHAG's president, Beth Finnerty.
Georgia attendees, including representatives from the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Georgia Parent Support Network, NAMI Georgia, and DMDA of Georgia, met the next morning to develop a strategic plan for implementation. Step one will be establishing an Advisory Board, followed by setting up a database. A pilot voter enrollment will be conducted in Americus, Georgia, and the official "roll out" of the project will occur at the 10th annual conference of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network in August.
The fall national election will be our first chance to get voters to the polls and to tally voters participating. Mental Health Day at the Capitol 2001 will include voter education and will be used to expand the project statewide. Stuart Perry will serve as the leader of Georgia's Voter Empowerment project. Stuart walked from Georgia to Illinois last summer to raise awareness about clinical depression. Now his energy, enthusiasm, and perseverance will be applied to this exciting effort to organize consumers of mental health services into a collective voice that cannot be ignored.
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