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Melissa’s Institute aims to spread mental health awareness, create ‘safe haven’ for patients

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One Columbus group is working to raise the community’s awareness of mental illness.

Melissa’s Institute, an organization that aims to increase public awareness of mental illness, was founded about six years ago by Elaine, Nate and Billy Goldberg, mother, father and brother of Melissa Goldberg, respectively, Elaine Goldberg said.

Elaine Goldberg said Melissa Goldberg was originally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993 and died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2006 with the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. The disorder is a condition where a person experiences schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms, including hallucinations and depression, according to Mayo Clinic.

“Melissa became ill in college, and we had her in many different facilities in the New England area and in Columbus,” Elaine Goldberg said. “And we were always concerned what was going to happen to her when we aged and ultimately died. Where was she going to go?”

That question led to Melissa’s House, a building run by Melissa’s Institute on the east side of Columbus that will soon undergo renovations to turn it into a safe haven for those suffering from mental illness, Billy Goldberg said.

Renovations will begin in the coming months, Billy Goldberg said. The first part of the building is set to be finished within a year, and the second part in the following year, depending on fundraising.

Melissa’s House needs about $5 million for the project, Billy Goldberg said.

Melissa’s Institute is scheduled to host a movie screening and discussion panel Monday at the Gateway Film Center. “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film,” a Lifetime original movie produced by Jennifer Aniston, is set to be screened, followed by a Q-and-A panel about recognizing the signs of mental illness and ways to help those who are mentally ill.

“What we’re hoping to accomplish there, since there will be many college students there, is to help people recognize when their roommates, friends or family members are having problems and give them resources on how to give them help,” said Billy Goldberg, who is set to sit on the panel.

Jeff Knupp, a Melissa’s House board member, got involved with Melissa’s House after his brother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, died last year.

“My interest is in trying to educate folks on removing the stigma associated with mental illness,” Knupp said. “I dealt with that a lot with my brother, people were keeping him at arm’s length. That was somewhat frustrating.”

Knupp ran the Capital City half-marathon in May to raise funds for Melissa’s House. He is also set to serve on the panel with Goldberg at the event Monday.

Eliminating a stigma associated with mental illnesses is the first step in community rehabilitation, Elaine Goldberg said.

“The stigma makes it like it’s a character problem, and it’s not,” she said. “It’s a chemical problem. We’re just perpetuating that by having their environment be so unwelcoming and unloving.”

The goal of Melissa’s Institute and the upcoming event is to eliminate that stigma and encourage people to get help when they need it, Elaine Goldberg said.

“It is so, so important to build awareness and education so that people will get help, so that they understand what’s going on and they don’t start self-medicating,” Elaine Goldberg said. “And so that people aren’t continuing the stigma that prevents people from getting help. It’s just hugely important to us.”

Melissa’s House aims to provide a comfortable environment in which people can get help for mental illness, Knupp said.

“When you’re surrounded by positive and bright and happy (energy), it tends to have an effect on you, as opposed to some of the places they have the opportunity to go,” Knupp said. “It’s dark, dreary and sad, which doesn’t help the situation.”

The OSU Wexner Medical Center is an event partner of the movie showing and panel discussion.

“You think about the level of touch, and you think about (how) somebody can become aware and ask someone, ‘How are you doing?’” said Amanda Lucas, executive director of Harding Hospital. “Sometimes that’ll help somebody reach out and get help.”

The event “Living and Loving with Mental Illness: A Melissa’s Institute Outreach Program” is set for Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gateway Film Center. Admission is $5 or free with a valid student ID.

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