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Mother and daughter work to fight stigma around mental illness

Source: WPSD –

Do you know the signs of mental illness? It’s a subject many of you are talking about following acts of mass violence like the deadly weekend shooting at a Nashville-area Waffle House and the Marshall County High School shooting in January.

But mental illnesses are are common, and most people with mental health issues are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sometimes, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses prevents people from seeking the help they need. A local mother and daughter are working to fight that stigma in their community.

They shared their stories of struggles with mental illness at a health and wellness summit in Paducah on Tuesday.


Can you imagine not being able to control your thoughts? Julia Burkhart is 13 years old. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and ADHD.

“I would hear things or see things, and I would answer to them,” Julia said.

The bullying she faced in school didn’t help. She tried to commit suicide at 11 years old, something that is always on the mind of her mother, Stephanie Burkhart.

“Every morning I wake up, and I think to myself: Am I going to go in her room and she’s not going to be with us anymore because of the mental illness?” Stephanie said.

Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars said 20 years ago he would have never thought mental illness would play such a big part in his career. But he says the Marshall County High School shooting proves people need to take a more active role.

“If you see something that doesn’t look right, you might need to talk with them or talk with someone to get the help they need,” said Byars.

Lourdes medical director of behavioral health and psychiatrist Dr. Laurie Ballew said mental illness symptoms can include changes in appetite, sleep, and grades.

“First thing we look for are physical signs, because when our brain’s not working right we don’t want to eat, or we sleep too much, or we don’t sleep,” Ballew said.

Julia said the stigma no longer affects her. “I’m not ashamed of my mental illnesses, and I know they don’t label me as a person,” she said.

Everyone needs help sometimes. Ballew said 1 and 5 children and 1 and 3 adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness this year. She said there are services available for anyone in need of mental help at places like and Lourdes, among others in our region.

See WPSD video here

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