Assessing Peoria's Mental Health: Awareness needed

DeWayne Bartels

Seven years ago, Cindy Ardis-Jenkins came face-to-face with the devastating side of mental illness, turning her into a local activist for mental health issues.

Her bother, Tim, a sports superstar, an Academic All-American, record-setting salesman, husband and father, seemed to have it all. What his family did not know, or suspect, was that Tim also had clinical depression. Seven years ago, at the age of 30, he committed suicide.

Jenkins and her brothers, Jim and Tony, became non-professional local mental health professionals forming the Tim Ardis Foundation for Hope.

They are only three of many local people who, while belonging to different groups, all work with the goal of providing education, advocacy and hope.

Jenkins said she is proud of how far Peorians have come in awareness of mental illness and how supportive they are of efforts to improve mental health services.

“Awareness is a huge step. But, we have to go beyond that to education. The struggle for people with issues is finding the services we have in Peoria. It’s still hard for people to know where to go,” Jenkins said. “I think we have done a good job. But, there is no such thing as enough awareness and education.”

North Peorian Diane Geiss,  after a very personal experience involving mental illness with someone she knows, found herself becoming a local advocate.

Geiss is a vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Tri-County, which helps provide education, support and advocacy for families, friends and individuals with mental illnesses in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

But, she and the other members of the local NAMI chapter are also working with the judiciary in Peoria County to create a mental health court with special understanding of the issues that lead the mentally ill to commit crimes.

“It’s in the planning process,” she said. “But, what we need most is for people to avail themselves of the education resources available so we can remove the stigma around mental illness. We need to get people to accept mental illness the way they do diabetes.”

Tony Ardis agreed, but said, in his view, the burden is on the advocates to bring understanding to the public.

“I don’t fault those who don’t think about it or care,” Ardis said.

“Prior to our loss, I didn’t. I hope we’re provoking caring. The burden is on us.”