Forum to hone in on Whidbey’s mental health issues

A forum on South Whidbey will tackle the complex issues surrounding mental health and its treatment next week.

The forum, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, is “mainly for education and to get rid of the stigma of mental illness,” according to organizer Linda Plitkins.

“We need to start this discussion,” Plitkins said.

The event will feature presentations from three guest speakers followed by a question and answer period. Kathy Chiles is a former project manager who will share her “journey from insanity and back” as detailed in her book “Pangaea: Confessions of an Erstwhile Mermaid.”

Chiles, coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter in Snohomish County, had an extensive psychotic break, and was subsequently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a cross between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to her bio.

It’s Plitkins’ hope that the forum will start a community discussion about the island’s mental health and potentially create a NAMI chapter locally.

“The idea is that we could get NAMI support here,” Plitkins said. “We don’t have a chapter of our own.”

Two mental health professionals will also share their experiences and expertise.

Charlene Ray, a licensed independent clinical social worker, has been in practice as a therapist for 29 years. Ray specializes in non-traditional therapies like alchemical healing, guided imagery, voice dialogue and equine assisted psychotherapy.

Sheryl Larson is a master’s level registered nurse who works with veterans suffering from PTSD and has six years experience in psychiatric nursing. She has worked “in diverse settings that include Washington State’s largest setting for the treatment of mental illness, the state prison system,” according to her bio.

“One in four Americans will experience some form of mental health issue in their lifetime,” according to an event flyer. “Even more will have a family member or friend affected by mental health issues.”

Pastor Elizabeth Felt will facilitate the event. The forum is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided. Trinity Lutheran Church is at 18341 State Highway 525 in Freeland.