Fighting the stigma


MASON CITY, Iowa – Students and staff filled the activity center at North Iowa Area Community College Monday to learn about mental health and how it can impact their lives.

Joan Becker is speaking to those she’s hopeful will listen.

“College students are one of my favorite groups to speak to. You know why?  This was the age and the onset of my son’s illness when it reared its ugly head,” Becker said.

She’s referring to her son’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia. Mark killed football coach Ed Thomas in the Aplington Parkersburg weight room in 2009.   Joan was just starting to understand at that time her son was suffering from something she didn’t know anything about prior to the diagnosis.

“It’s amazing how well she tells it and how she directs it toward college students so they can realize it can happen to them, it could be happening to them,” NIACC student Brooke Miller said.

Miller is all ears Monday as she listens to this chilling story.  She’s hopeful, like Joan, the stigma of mental illness will one day go away.

“My husband is a veteran and he has PTSD and there’s still the stigma that it’s not exactly an illness, it’s all in his head,” Miller said.

Miller and the rest of the students present are learning the signs of a mental illness as it’s setting in, who to go to for help, and why she and others should care to help.

“Number one they can erase the stigma around it.  They don’t have all the baggage adults our age carry with mental health stigma, and they can be aware and enlighten. What to look for, looking for it, watching for it in their friends.  Get friends help.  Huge step in the right direction,” Becker said.

NIACC is the first community college to host a National Alliance on Mental Illness organization on campus.

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