The girl who asked if a bipolar parent meant she’d get the manic-depressive brain disorder, too, was a brilliant point of light for Dr. Smita Varshney at the Rome High NAMI Walk Tuesday.
“I was really impressed with her questions,” said Varshney, a board member of the Rome chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Her daughter, senior Jaaie Varshney, helped organize the event with the school’s HOSA Club for students in the health care pathway to graduation. Classes came by to walk around the track and stop at various information booths along the way.
Kimberly King and Payton Berry of the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia teach a two-week program on safe dating at the school. King said people in unhealthy relationships could be more susceptible to depression and certain other types of mental illnesses.
“If we can prevent one issue, it may prevent a number of other issues,” she said.
At the domestic violence awareness table, HOSA Club member Michelle Rodriguez was handing out information from the nonprofit Hospitality House, where she volunteers.
“I can’t do much,” she said. “But as long as you’re listening, as long as you’re there supporting them, that’s what really counts.”
Health care teacher Tiffany Jensen said her HOSA Club students “do a lot of service work.” Among the dozen or so organizations they brought in for the walk were Floyd EMS, Highland Rivers Behavioral Health, the Floyd County Health Department and Floyd Against Drugs.
NAMI Rome also had a table, where Dr. Varshney and Bonnie Moore, the chapter president, were answering questions about mental illness, anxiety, AD-HD and even drugs.
Moore talked about the peer and family counseling and support programs offered in Rome, along with the signs that a friend might need help. Information is available on the organization’s website, Facebook page and by calling 706-506-5010.
“They are now aware there are resources here,” she said.
Dr. Varshney, a psychiatry specialist, also spent some time with students asking about hallucinations, self-medication and bipolar disorder. She said having a bipolar parent does increase the chance of a child becoming bipolar, but there are steps they can take to reduce the odds.
“Not everybody gets it,” she said. “Good sleep, nutritious meals, stress management skills — they’re all part of mental hygiene.”
The important takeaway for Dr. Varshney is one that was repeated at the various tables around the high school track.
“Don’t suffer in silence,” she said. “Ask for help.”