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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

Mental Health Advocacy Day

Monday was a busy day for me. I did a little work before a dentist appointment that took most of the morning, then testified via Zoom for Vermont Mental Health Advocacy Day. Then back to work, before heading to my hometown of Stowe (~45 minutes away) to do a reading/book signing event at a cafe owned by the family of a dear childhood friend. The event was complete with a fire in the hearth and a free dinner with foods inspired by the book. I read from the book and fielded questions about mental health and my writing process. It was a day filled with inspiring and heart-wrenching stories and sometimes difficult--yet so encouraging--conversations.

This was the fourth year I'd participated in Mental Health Advocacy Day and the first time I shared my story at the event (in 2019, I was interviewed during the day, which was held in person at the Statehouse that year, by a local TV station but had not testified to all the attendees). Mental Health Advocacy Day is organized by NAMI-VT, which provides much-needed services, peer groups, education, and resources related to mental health. Unfortunately, due to the dentist appointment, I missed most of the morning, including legislators speaking and the key-note by Miss Vermont, an advocate for mental health care, but managed to tune in for the afternoon testimonies.

But I did get to share my story along with a dozen or so others out there in Zoom land. The stories were at once heartbreaking and inspiring. They were stories of hope, but also stories of pain. Parents spoke of their children struggling with mental illness and addiction, one of whom had lost the battle. People talked about being judged, not getting the help they needed, not having anyone who understood. They also talked about some of the amazing resources we do have and the help they provide. While we still have a long way to go with mental health care in this state (and country), it's heartening to see lawmakers, community organizers, and survivors do this important work. It saves lives.

It felt fitting to round out Mental Health Advocacy Day with an evening celebrating my memoir and my ability to tell my own story, which, I am very aware, is one of privilege and (mostly) having access to the help I needed, when I was ready to ask for it. This is not the case for too many. I feel that, as someone who has had the support to continue to heal, it is my duty to speak out and advocate for myself and others.

People at Monday night's event were genuinely curious about what had worked for me, how they could help the people in their lives going through it, the ways food and community can heal, and what growing up in a small Vermont town feels like for a kid with an eating disorder who would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There was so much empathy and genuine curiousity and support in that familiar room.

What an inspirational, emotional, exhausting day it was! We finished it off by watching the latest episode of "The Last of Us," which--may I just say?--is one of the best TV episodes I've seen and an absolutely beautiful love story at the end of the world. In short, it was a joyful, difficult, incredible day and my heart is full of love for the people who showed up, virtually and in person, to talk about mental health.

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