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How to Keep Sane in an Insane World 

The Art of Survival

One of the final frontiers of intolerance in our society is mental health. We don't know how to deal with our sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and friends and neighbors who suffer from diseases ranging from bipolar disorder to addiction.

We ignore the man walking down the street talking to himself, or the woman passed out next to a building because she's been self-treating her manic episodes with alcohol and street drugs for decades.

When mental health patients enter the system, they often encounter a complex maze of one-size-fits-all programs and a cycle of institutional residency, from mental health facilities to jails. Family and friends sometimes back away. Isolation ensues.

Several Charlotte angels have stepped in to help over the past few decades. In this issue's cover story, "Mind the Gaps," reporter Vanessa Infanzon talks with some of those angels and looks at some of the organizations that they've founded to help close the gap between treatment and sustained services for those who suffer from mental illness.

Two of those angels are Virginia and Ernest Schumacher, who took matters into their own hands more than 30 years ago when their youngest daughter was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The Schumachers founded the "Drop-In" at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in south Charlotte.

Others have stepped in over the years with additional citizen-founded programs, including Linda Phillips, who started Providence Place and Betsy and Bill Blue, who opened up the HopeWay Foundation. For mental-health veteran Bob Evans, president of the Charlotte-area chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Health, the gap between treatment and sustained services for mentally ill patients is a result of a constantly changing bureaucracy in public healthcare.

"I think one of the major problems is that the system has been redesigned and dismantled so many times over the past couple of years," Evans tells Infanzon. "So it is hard to get any kind of confidence on the ground. There is no long-term tradition that you can get your claws into, where we can say this is where our roots are."

Evans came to Charlotte from New York City, where a similar grassroots effort took place in the 1960s. "I think a lot of things came out of that movement that were very good. They even did things like storefront psychiatry," Evans tells Infanzon. "It was a very exciting time."

Infanzon's cover story is hopeful — but cautiously so. Stigmas remain. And until we all are educated on the disease aspect of mental illness, barriers to treatment will still keep our loved ones from seeking help.

Speaking of sustained mental and physical wellness, in the food section Ryan Pitkin talks with Julia Simon of Nourish Charlotte, a vegan and gluten-free food delivery service that aims to keep Charlotteans living well, one delivery at a time.

"Charlotte was a place where I feel like the kind of food I love to make and I love to eat, there wasn't very much of it," Simon tells Pitkin in "Keeping Things Fresh." So the graduate of New York City's National Gourmet Institute started a service here that offers what she calls "light, planet-aware, locally aware, organic food."

If you really want to get well and stay well mentally, though, you have to enjoy yourself by nourishing your body and soul with art and music. In the arts section this week, CL intern Jasmin Herrera writes about Charlotte Lit's year-long celebration of the late Carson McCullers, author of the classic 1940 novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCullers lived in the house that is now the Indian restaurant Copper on East Boulevard, and that's where Charlotte Lit kicked off its Carson McCullers Centennial Initiative and Celebration last month. Read about their future plans here.

Then go check out Charlotte pop and soul singer Jason Jet, whose name is reminiscent of another singer named Jett (with two t's), who loves rock and roll. Regular CL freelancer Kia Moore talks with Jet, who performs at the After Hours Lounge at UNCC on March 14, about his new album, The Great Escape, and his journey from Iceland to the Queen City. What keeps Jet interested in music is his ability to juggle his various musical talents.

"For me the ability to know how to do 10 different things with music keeps me going," Jet tells Moore in "The Art of Diversification." "I think if I was just a singer-songwriter in Charlotte, there just would not be enough there to financially survive."

Ah, survival. That's what we're all about in this week's Creative Loafing.

mkemp@clclt.com

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