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posted: 6/6/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Removing the stigma of mental illness

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It was one of those special days when the black clouds part for people suffering from mental illness. For people who care for and about people with mental illness. For all of us.

On Monday, President Obama called for the hushed conversation about mental health to be drawn from the shadows and be brought into the national consciousness.

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In opening a White House conference on mental health, Obama said those affected by mental illness should know they don't have to suffer in silence.

"Struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating," he said. "It begins to feel as if not only are you alone but that you shouldn't burden others with the challenge."

He trotted out actors Bradley Cooper and Glenn Close, both of whom have played memorable mentally ill characters, to give the discussion some Hollywood cachet.

Closer to home, how serendipitous that Myers Place -- a long-anticipated 39-unit apartment building for people who are disabled, mentally ill or formerly homeless but have the ability to live independently -- opened the same day in Mount Prospect.

And that the village of Wheeling on Monday night settled with the developers of PhilHaven, a proposed 50-unit building for low-income residents who have mental illness but can live independently.

The Wheeling village board had fought PhilHaven's construction by rejecting it twice -- overruling the recommendation of the village plan commission. A judge, however, called the village's rejection discriminatory after the developers sued and gave village leaders no confidence they could prevail.

Myers Place is the first supportive housing development in the Northwest suburbs, and residents will begin to move in this week. With all 39 units filled, there are still more than 300 people on a waiting list, said Jessica Berzac, with the Daveri Development Group, which built Myers Place, will build PhilHaven and has plans for similar projects in Palatine and other towns.

In Washington, the administration laid out an agenda that includes discussion of insurance coverage for mental health care and substance abuse, recognizing the signs of mental illness in young people and improved access to services for veterans.

Local news stories here continue to illustrate how acute the problems of drug use and suicide are in the suburbs.

Nationally, the overarching goals are to reduce the stigma of mental health problems and encourage those who are struggling to get help.

Let's hope that as time wears on, prejudices and fears about facilities like Myers Place and PhilHaven ebb.

"These are individuals who desire the same things we all do," Berzac said. "A safe place to live that they can call home."

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