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Group reaches out to mentally ill
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This month, Georgia officially established its first branch in public health exclusively devoted to mental health. Mental health used to be lumped under the state resources department.

"The opportunity presented by this new department brings with it both a higher profile and higher expectations," said Dr. Frank Shelp, commissioner of the newly formed Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.

"Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Perdue and the General Assembly, people in Georgia who have behavioral health issues, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases now have an agency that’s solely focused on supporting their well-being and independence."

Martha Lavigne, who is heading up the Liberty County Mood Disorders Support Group in Jesup, said she wanted to offer a good local alternative for those who need help. The Wayne County has between 15-20 members-strong.

"It helps on a weekly basis to get and meet with other people who have illness and see that life does go on," Lavigne said.

Lavigne recalled how she first learned to cope when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1999.

"I just starting getting out of control emotionally," Lavigne said of her illness. "I was drained and couldn’t face the public and they only thing they could do was put me in the hospital."

She takes medication to control her emotions and keep her on a regular sleep schedule. However, her illness keeps her from working a full-time job and she depends a lot on family.

No matter how mild, mental illness can be very serious and can cause people to do things they wouldn't normally even consider.

"Like get in the car and drive off with someone and you don’t know where you’re going," Lavigne said.

There are no membership dues and brochures from the National Institute of Mental Health are available.

The next group meeting is at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the Liberty Regional Medical Center's first floor classroom.

"It helps to talk about it with other people who have gone through the same thing," Lavigne said. "It’s just a throw-your-feelings-on-the-table ... and have other people bounce back what happened to them."

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