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A lot of people I love deal with various levels of mental illness. My students often present with, what seem to my untrained eyes, symptoms of mental illness. A good friend works and lives at Paxton Ministries, an organization dedicated to providing long-term affordable housing to people with mental illness and/or mental retardation. So when I saw this book by Larry Hayes Mental Illness and Your Town: 37 Ways for Communities to Help and Heal, I was very interested in what he has to say on the subject. So often, this group of people is overlooked in our communities, and I was eager to see his suggestions for how to help.

I wasn’t disappointed. His advice is sound, practical and compassionate. His suggestions range from the simple distribution of literature about mental illness and organizations that provide support and counseling for people with mental illness to revamping the entire mental health care system. He discusses ways that individuals can help – educate ourselves, donate cell phones to people who might need one in an emergency – to more systemic suggestions – open a suicide hotline, involve churches, train activists. There’s a way for every one of us to get involved in helping those who suffer with mental illnesses.

For me, perhaps the most profound suggestion he makes is that we work to dispel the myths around mental illness. People with mental illness CAN and SHOULD work; it helps them heal and contributes to our society. Mental illness is not directly caused by bad parenting, poor choices, or genetics; a complex set of factors contribute to mental illness. Therapy DOES help. And perhaps the most powerful, it’s not often possible for people to just “shake it off” and “get over it;” mental illness is complex and it is real.

So for those of you looking for a way to get involved in your communities, for those of you looking for a way to make a real difference, for those of you who love people with mental illness, for those of you with mental illness, this book is for you. Hayes has written a readable, clear, and insightful text. It gave me ideas and inspired me to do more, and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

If you’d like to receive my copy of this text (a little dog-eared but still in great shape), post a comment explaining why you’d like the book. I’ll choose a winner on Friday, Nov 12. If you spread the word via Twitter/Facebook/etc, I”ll give you a second entry for each time you pass along word of the giveaway. Thanks.

Cover of Mental Illness and Your TownMental Illness and Your Town by Larry Hayes