Suncoast organization helps break the stigma around mental illness

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – Venice resident Patrick O’Keefe says he’s come a long way in his battle with mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in his early twenties. O’Keefe is now in his 50s.

“I had no idea what was going on, the symptoms I had were delusional and not based on reality,” O’Keefe said. “But in my mind they were, so it was very difficult.”

O’Keefe says he’s been in remission for more than 25 years. He says places like the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Sarasota, also known as NAMI, help many people. With lots of support, recovery, and the right medications, he was successful in his battle with mental illness.

“Just groups, 12-step groups are a big part of that,” O’Keefe said. “My recovery, meditation, taking care of myself, being responsible. Simple things, keeping the house clean, exercising, hobbies.

Mental illness does not only involve people with schizophrenia, but can also include people with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. Every day, dozens of people use free services at NAMI sites in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, ranging from support and education to wellness activities and socializing.

“We need to keep talking about it, don’t be afraid to talk about it,” said Colleen Thayer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s not something to worry about and the more we can do this stuff, the more resources we can get to support people living with mental health issues.”

O’Keefe now works as a Certified Recovery Specialist at NAMI. He now helps others with their mental health issues.

“I saw so much beauty in him, and overcoming what he did is just amazing,” said Rath Cromie, operations coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

O’Keefe has this advice for anyone currently struggling with mental illness.

“Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, I think we as a society need to realize that asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength,” O’Keefe said. .

NAMI will have a sanity walk. It’s scheduled for Saturday, October 8, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Payne Park in Sarasota.

For more information about NAMI and their upcoming march, you can log on to

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Aubrey L. Morgan