ELLSWORTH — Nearly 100 people joined Hope Day at Knowlton Park on May 15 to raise public awareness and “smash the stigma of mental illness.” That is the goal of the national Yellow Tulip Project, and Hope Day was held to kick off the Ellsworth chapter.
Yellow Tulip Project ambassadors joined local voices to share stories of their experiences with mental illness and those of friends and family members.
“I truly feel the stigma of talking about mental illness was part of the reason it went to the point of suicide,” Julie Vittum said of a past boyfriend. A senior auditor for Machias Savings Bank, Vittum also presented the Ellsworth Yellow Tulip Project with a donation of $1,000.
Whether mental illness derives from brain chemicals out of balance, trauma, or both, the stigma stops those suffering, and their friends and family, from receiving help, speakers shared.
“If you had diabetes, you would talk about it with a family member,” Vittum noted.
Sharon Rose, an anchor with NewsCenter Maine, spoke of a torturous path to finding help for her 19-year-old daughter who had slipped into a bipolar psychosis. “She will struggle on and off with this for the rest of her life,” she said.
The crowd sat on lawn chairs and blankets, listening to music performed by the Ellsworth High School chorus, jazz band, and teacher Chris Betts. One local high school student sat alone on the grass, listening with intent.
“I think it’s really important to get the word about this out there,” she said. “I don’t see a lot of this talked about.” And while she can speak of her own mental illness, she said that when it comes to speaking to friends about their own situations, it’s not so easy. Then she asked her name not to be used because it would upset her parents if she spoke publicly about her mental illness.
Annie Sargent, director of Ellsworth Adult Education and an organizer of Hope Day, summed up the message: “We’re talking a lot here about hope, and it happens one person at a time.”