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Mental illness message travels far and wide - More than 85 miles in fact!

Echo Press photo by Al Edenloff The Douglas County Advisory Council on Mental Health organized a balloon release last Thursday at Alexandria City Park. The goal was to boost awareness of Mental Health Month.

"Mental illness is a treatable brain disease."

That's the message the Douglas County Advisory Council on Adult Mental Health wanted to spread far and wide Thursday.

The effort worked.

Tucked inside a balloon, the message soared high into the air and drifted southeast, over trees, hilltops, homes and businesses before finally settling down on a quiet dairy farm near Howard Lake, about 86 miles away as the crow flies.

A 12-year-old girl found the balloon - one of dozens that was released last Thursday in honor of Mental Health Month in May. The helium-filled white balloons were released from Alexandria City Park.

The messages inside contained contact information for those who found them.

The girl sent a letter to the advisory group. It read, in part:

"I found the balloon in my field on May 21 [the same day it was released]. This balloon traveled a long way. I support your [message]: Mental illness is a treatable brain disease...I will send out my own balloons with the same writing on it. Your friend, Mackenzie."

Some form of mental illness affects about one in five people in their lifetime, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental illnesses are biological brain disorders that can disrupt a person's thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness.

Mental illnesses are treatable medical conditions, NAMI Minnesota notes, and thanks to research and medical advances in medications and treatment, recovery is possible.

Many people feel isolated by this illness because of the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding it. But NAMI adds: "If your life has been touched by mental illness, you are not alone."

For more information about the Douglas County Advisory Council on Adult Mental Health, call social services at (320) 762-2302.