by TaLeiza Calloway
St. Joseph resident Jennifer Lieser knows all too well how mental illness can affect one’s life.
In 2008, she suffered a miscarriage. Depression, a form of mental illness she has been dealing with since 2002, increased. Her husband couldn’t bear the loss and left their home. The illness also led to the loss of her job. Each loss was followed by another.
“I had the perfect life and watched it all crumble,” Lieser said. “It was hard.”
She, her mother and grandmother have battled depression for years. The 30-year-old is on medication and receives therapy.
While she says she has both good and bad days, her motivation comes from her 3-year-old daughter, Lauren. Pictures of the smiley child cover the walls of Lieser’s St. Joseph home. The Meire Grove native is a graduate student at St. John’s University in pursuit of a master’s degree in divinity.
“I’ve built myself back up,” she said. “I’m doing very well.”
As prevalent as mental illness is in her family and beyond, Lieser is determined to help advocate for others. She has worked as a social worker for about eight years. Helping end the stigma surrounding people living with mental illness is always her goal. Just like any other disease, those who suffer from depression deserve compassion not criticism. The stigma can be brutal.
“You feel like you have to hide it,” Lieser said of depression. “It’s debilitating, and it’s hard to admit there’s something wrong. It’s just as much of a disease as diabetes.”
Lieser is a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is assisting with the marketing for the second annual NAMI Walk slated for tomorrow (Sept. 22) in St. Cloud. Next year, she said she will serve as the chair of the event. She couldn’t say enough about the importance of the event that attracts hundreds statewide. This is the first year she will participate in the walk.
“The whole goal of NAMI is to break down the stigma of mental illness, raise awareness and educate,” she said.
Lieser said she shares her story because she wants people to know they are not alone.
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. The organization advocates for access to services, treatment, support and research with a commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope for all those in need, according to www.nami.org.
Last year NAMI Walks brought more than 300 adults together and 17 children participated in the “Silly Hat Walk for Kids.” Twenty-six teams from all across the state participated in the first-ever NAMI Walks in St. Cloud, according to the NAMI Walks website.
The NAMI Walk St. Cloud is a 5K walk in Whitney Memorial Park, 1529 Northway Drive, St. Cloud. Check-in starts at 11:30 a.m. with the walk beginning at 1 p.m.