WEST RIDGE — Lying in a hospital bed during the depths of her depression, Miriam Ament never thought those very experiences would shape her life forever.
Now 15 years later, Ament is the founder of No Shame On U, a nonprofit organization that works to provide education, resources and support to people experiencing mental illness and mental health issues, and their friends and family.
Two years ago, she attended a mental health conference where she met actress Glenn Close, who was there representing her organization, Bring Change 2 Mind.
Ament, who said she had never divulged her full personal journey through mental illness to anyone outside her small circle of confidants, spilled her story to Close.
Feeling inspired by their encounter, she founded No Shame On U.
In November, the organization held its first event in Skokie. Ament has spoken on the subject and appeared on numerous panels, most recently at the University of Chicago alongside Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
The West Ridge resident's work comes from a deeply personal place.
She suffered from depression beginning in her teens, she said. The feeling of loss and emptiness swelled by the time she was in her early 30s, landing her in the hospital several times.
During her greatest time of need, however, she found certain friends and family members were ill-equipped to understand what she was going through. Some even painfully admitted they'd rather not be associated with her until she was "better."
"One of my closest friends at the time called me when I was in the hospital and said, 'I only want to talk to you when you're happy, so let's not talk again for a while.' And I never heard from her again."
Through her work with No Shame On U, Ament is trying to eradicate the stigma often attached to those who experience mental illness as well as those close to them.
Unlike physical problems such as broken bones or diabetes, people suffering mental illness are more likely to feel ashamed or receive blame for their condition, she said.
"There shouldn't be shame associated with mental health, but there still unfortunately is," she said.
Ament said she recently was invited to attend one of Close's events in New York — an invitation she couldn't turn down. She said she felt compelled to thank Close in person for the tremendous impact she'd made on her life, and subsequently the lives of others.
Though she's lived through experiences that have ultimately empowered her to take control of her mental health, she realizes not everyone is so lucky.
If someone is feeling alone, or hopeless, Ament wants people to know the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-8255, and its text line is 741741.
Above all else, Ament wants people who are suffering from mental health issues to know: "You are not alone, there are so many people out there who understand."
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