Wellstone's son campaigns for mental illness education - FOX 35 News Orlando

Wellstone's son campaigns for mental illness education

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While he's not running for office, the son of a well-known Minnesota senator is embarking on a campaign to educate people about mental illness and resources.

Sen. Paul Wellstone was passionate about mental health issues, and his son is carrying the torch by telling others about how mental health issues affected their family.

Dave Wellstone spoke at the Basilica of St. Mary on Sunday, explaining that his uncle suffered from schizophrenia and that he himself struggled with depression after his father died.

Wellstone said that talking about his uncle was off-limits when he was a child, but Wellstone says he hopes that education can eliminate that silence and the stigma that surrounds the topic.

"We don't talk about it," he said. "Yet, when we don't talk about it, it drives it underground and people don't get help. It's this vicious cycle."

Since the violent shootings at Accent Signage Systems and in Newtown, Conn., mental illness has become part of the national dialogue -- and Wellstone said it's about time.

"It's every family, every community, every block," he stressed. "Everybody deals with it."

Wellstone insists that beginning to talk about the topic will help those suffering with mental illness find the support systems they need to find treatment before a tragedy unfolds.

By helping to pass his father's legacy bill -- the Mental Health Parity Act, Wellstone is also hoping to help people in need by educating residents on the rights that law provides.

"No longer can they say, 'Three or four visits and we are capping that,'" he said. "No longer can they say, 'We are going to deny coverage, but we are not going to tell you why.' So, if you need help and your plan offers coverage, you now have access to it."

Wellstone also recently penned a book that focuses on his father's mental health crusade, and it provided a launching pad for his own non-profit: the Wellstone/Barlow Mental Health Initiative.

"My dream is that we can erase the stigma and that we can have this discussion openly -- and the folks who need help get it and we treat diseases of the brain the same way we treat physical diseases," Wellstone told FOX 9 News.

Though Wellstone has no plans on seeking public office to push for change, he is still working with lawmakers, such as Sen. Al Franken, to expand mental care services.

Organizers at the Basilica of St. Mary say they are also passionate about the issue. In 2007, Cathy Stepanic helped create the mental health ministry at the church.

"What that does is reduces stigma and it educates people not to be afraid of people with mental illness," she explained.

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