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Local author to dispel myths of mental illness

— Now, more than ever, it’s critical to talk about mental illness.

Twenty-five percent of adults in the U.S. will deal with some sort of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. These illnesses may begin with the individual, but they ultimately affect families, communities, workplaces and schools. Undiagnosed and untreated, mental illness can lead to horrific tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting.

Local author and advocate for mental illness awareness Karen Winters Schwartz will talk about misconceptions of mental illness and the stigma that stems from ignorance and fear on Thursday, Feb. 7, at Baldwinsville Public Library. She’ll share her thoughts on decreasing stigma, increasing education and eliciting empathy—thus smoothing out the road to recovery and decreasing the potential for future tragedies. The talk begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

The author of two novels about mental illness, Schwartz, who lives on Otisco Lake in Marietta, uses the books and her presentations to open discussion about the need for empathy and the impact of the negative stigma associated with mental illness, along with its far-reaching, devastating effects. While Schwartz's stories are fictional, they are based on real life people and their experiences.

Her book “Where Are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family’s Journey Through Bipolar Disorder,” is about her own family’s mental health journey; both of her daughters experienced mental illness—bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—in their teenager years. In her second novel, “Reis’s Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia,” Schwartz humanizes the experiences of both the afflicted person and those around him. Both of her novels humanize and dispel the myth that mentally ill people are demons or monster.

Statistics show that less than one percent of violent crimes are committed by those with a mental illness, and only 10 percent of mentally ill individuals commit any sort of violent act. In fact, people suffering from these illnesses are much more likely to become victims of crimes. Schwartz is an outspoken advocate for the advancement of our collective understanding of mental illness. She is an active board member of NAMI Syracuse (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and a sought-after speaker at mental health association events and conferences across the country. She has presented dozens of bookstore talks and radio interviews.

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