TRAVERSE CITY — By CAROL SOUTH
While both perceptions of people with mental illness and treatments have changed dramatically over decades, the process has accelerated even in the last few years.
Ernie Reynolds is experiencing this shift first hand.
The peer support specialist with Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, Reynolds is a quiet, dignified man who exudes caring and compassion. His life transcends diagnoses of bipolar, epilepsy and diabetes. His multi-faceted mission is to educate and help break stigmas surrounding mental illness while also helping individuals and families in need.
While much has changed since the warehouse-and-medicate approach he encountered in 1965, there is still a ways to go. However changing attitudes among agencies and professionals have helped significantly.
"I've seen how bad it was and I've seen how far it's come," Reynolds said. "And in the next ten years, if it changes as much as the last five, it's exciting."
A moving speaker and devoted advocate, Reynolds' activism is geared to help others on the "recovery journey," as he terms life with mental illnesses. He relishes the word journey because it is always going forward, not backward.
"A mental illness is no different than a broken leg," said Reynolds, who in addition to his peer support serves on local, state and national panels.
Next Monday evening Reynolds will join mental health and human service professionals on a panel convened after a free showing of the movie "The Soloist" at the Traverse City State Theatre. The feature-length drama stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx relating a true story that raises issues of mental illness, homelessness and mentoring.
The showing of "The Soloist" is sponsored by Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, which serves six northern Michigan counties. The event will also feature a ten-minute video of "Look Closer: See Me For Who I Am," a local production featuring Reynolds.
The September 27 program is funded by an anti-stigma grant from the Department of Community Mental Health. With this money, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health has worked with area theaters to show films addressing topics of mental illness, poverty and stigmas.
The goal is to both educate and build awareness about mental health, said Cynthia Petersen, community provider relations coordinator for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health.
"We've been doing a lot of initiatives about both recovery and stigma," she noted. "Two years ago in Houghton Lake, we had 180 people come to a movie — it was a light bulb moment and we saw how successful it was to have the movie in a public venue and have a panel afterward."