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She wants to shatter stigma of mental illness

She said she was really nervous about sharing details of her mental illness, but it's something she's willing to do to eliminate the stigma that often surrounds it.

Jacci Magnuson, 41, of Alexandria has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and major depression.

In her experience, she said, "Once people know you have mental illness, they shy away from you or think you're going to flip out or something."

She said that's the stigma she and others deal with daily and she wants it to stop.

She said she's an example of someone with mental illness who is being treated and functioning well day-to-day.

"I want the awareness out there for anyone [who] hasn't really said to their family or friends that they have mental illness. I want them to know it's OK to speak out."

In addition, Magnuson said people shouldn't be worried they can "catch" mental illness by talking to or shaking the hand of someone with mental illness.

"It's a brain disease. Sometimes you don't have the right chemicals in there and you need the medications to regulate it," Magnuson said.

Magnuson's illnesses are currently regulated with medication and counseling. She said it's a good mix that has helped keep her illnesses under control for the last eight years.

But living with mental illness isn't easy.

Before treatment, Magnuson said she has been in manic bipolar stages where she spent money excessively. Even with treatment for her ADHD today, things like housework are overwhelmingly distracting and she has to have a to-do list.

"I can't focus on just one thing. I'll be doing dishes and I'll see something on the counter and I bounce quite often, I have to make myself a to-do list or it won't get done. I check off each item I do," she said.

Magnuson said the support of her family has also helped her cope and here's her advice to the families and friends of people with mental illness: "Be supportive. Don't shy away. Be there for them. Help them out. If you see a problem, get [that person] help right away; don't let it linger on. Take them serious if they tell you something's wrong."


Today, Magnuson said she's doing well and living life like anyone else.

"I have learned that my mental illness does not define me. I'm a mother, grandmother, girlfriend, daughter, sister, aunt. With all that, I have to be able to get out there and spend time with my family. I really have to show that I can do this and not let [mental illness] define who I am."

Magnuson currently serves on the Douglas County Local Advisory Council (LAC) on Mental Health. The LAC promotes the reduction of negative stigma around mental illness and the development of respectful and competent treatment services for those with a mental illness and their families.

Recently, she worked with fellow LAC members to plan for the local walk to celebrate Mental Health Month.

The community is invited to take part in the walk on Wednesday, May 15 at 2 p.m. at Big Ole in Alexandria. Participants will walk to City Hall and then return to Big Ole. Water and cookies will be provided and participants will receive a free T-shirt. To order a shirt, call Julie at (320) 491-7134.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

(320) 763-3133