According to the National Alliance on Mental Health and to Evangelical Lutheran Church of America disability resources, approximately 30 million adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given six-month period. Every year, approximately 35,000 Americans commit suicide.
About 20 people attended the Mental Health Vigil in Northfield's Bridge Square. Standing Civil War monument, attendees took the opportunity to come forward and remember loved ones they had lost to suicide or who had struggled with mental illness.
One attendee professed her personal battle with depression, saying that experiencing the stillness of the vigil while hearing the cars rush past was akin to the sense of stagnation felt during mental illness.
Judy Stoutland, an event organizer with Carroll Flaten and the Peace and Justice organization of St. John's Lutheran Church, said that the vigil was designed to increase awareness through visibility.
According to Stoutland, the event's public location was more welcoming than a private one. "Because it was a public place, it was more inviting. People could participate at whatever level they wished to participate." The vigil, initiated by Director of the Northfield Community Action Center Jim Blaha, was intentionally held on the fifth anniversary of Paul Wellstone's death on Oct. 25, 2002 in honor of Wellstone's advocacy for mental health issues. During his lifetime, Wellstone actively promoted increased insurance coverage for mental health care.
Stoutland acknowledged Wellstone's work in a brief speech during the vigil. "We remember that Paul Wellstone championed legislation for health insurance plans that would end discrimination against people suffering from mental illness," she said.
Wellstone and his fellow senator Peter Domenici proposed the "Mental Health Parity Act" to provide greater insurance coverage and recognition for people with mental illnesses. A compromised version of the bill was passed by the Clinton administration in 1996; Wellstone had hoped the bill would continue to expand.
Stoutland also noted the effectiveness of treatment for mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "the best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective. Between 70 and 90 percent have a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life. Northfield pastor and counselor Dan Dimick also spoke favorably of Wellstone's work on mental health issues, saying that insurance companies should not regard mental health issues as different than other illnesses such as diabetes.
Pastor Mark Johnson of St. John's Lutheran Church came forward to lead a litany asking for support and help for those suffering from mental illness.
The vigil was open to all members of the Northfield and college communities. "We wanted this to be a community-wide event," Stoutland said.