Mental Illness Symposium Set for May 10 at the Oxford Civic Center


Combating the stigmas associated with mental illness is the goal of the third annual Out of the Shadows summit co-sponsored by JSU on May 10. 

Funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, the all-day symposium is aimed at fostering a better understanding of the realities of mental illness as well as educating mental health advocates and professionals to some of the ever-evolving practices and issues within the field.  

“We want to keep people from suffering in silence,” said Julie Nix, director of JSU’s Office of Counseling and Disability Services, which is co-organizing the event. “We want to bring the conversations about mental illness into the light by hosting an event for everybody. Too often, mental health conferences are for professionals. We wanted this to be different.” 

The symposium, which will take place at the Oxford Civic Center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature numerous panel discussions, break-out sessions and guest speakers. The keynote speaker will be Carol Kivler, nationally recognized mental health consumer advocate, international executive coach/trainer and author.  

Topics will include talking with children and teens about mental illness, mental health court, insurance coverage for behavioral health care, faith and mental health, PTSD , suicide, Psychiatric Advanced Directives, the challenges of rural mental health care, lifestyle management and mental illness, and more.  

“We’ve really tried to touch on every possible area that is affected by mental health and then to address those areas,” Nix said. “I believe it’s going to be a dynamic event.”

Negative attitudes and beliefs towards the estimated one-fourth of Americans who suffer with mental illness are all-too common, Nix said. They are unfairly judged as being unstable, violent or dangerous. Stigmas lead to discrimination, whether obvious and direct or unintentional and subtle. According to the Mayo Clinic, such views of mental illness can have harmful effects, including: 

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends or co-workers
  • Fewer opportunities for work, education or social activities
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Problems with health insurance companies that doesn't adequately cover mental illness treatments

Perhaps the most dangerous stigma is the belief that mental illness is an impossible barrier to overcome, forever keeping successes out of reach. 

“When you look across segments of society, there’s still so much work to be done,” Nix said. “It’s often viewed as something that can be helped or is some kind of mental weakness. Mental illness is a disease – a brain disease.”

The Out of the Shadows Summit will be held on May 10, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Oxford Civic Center. Advance tickets for professionals, including lunch, is $50. Tickets on the day of the event are $65. Tickets for non-professionals are $5. For more information, call JSU Continuing Education and Outreach at 256-782-5918.