ST. GEORGE — With recent world and national events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and race issues in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the way people react and deal with these events has brought mental health issues to the forefront of conversation.
One St. George teen decided that rather than do nothing, she was going to put her talents and time to good use by raising money to help the southwest Utah affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Health, or NAMI Utah – Southwest.
Fifteen-year-old Stella Rose said that when she heard about the death of Floyd, it really affected her.
“It made me want to think about ways to make a difference or help. I didn’t want to sit back and do nothing,” she said.
Prior to the news about Floyd, Rose had been using a portion of her time in quarantine due to the coronavirus to learn how to make French macarons, so the idea struck her that she could sell the cookies as a fundraiser. But, Rose said, she wanted to give the money to an organization that was personal to her and that would do good for the community she lived in.
Though Floyd’s death acted as a catalyst for wanting to help, Rose’s story of how she came to be a mental health advocate started several years ago when her older sibling was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Since her sibling’s diagnosis, Rose said her family has been working through the challenges of the disorder and trying to help with both her sibling’s mental health and the family’s ability to navigate it.
Rose’s sibling had been attending school at the University of Utah before the coronavirus caused schools to move to online learning and students living in the dorms were sent home.
While home, the sibling was experiencing a particularly difficult manic period of the mental disorder, which causes unusual shifts in moods, energy levels and activity, said Rose’s mom, Elizabeth Rose.
“My child had been really, really sick during the quarantine,” Elizabeth Rose said, adding that it is a different kind of sickness than throwing up or running a fever.
If it had been strep throat, or even diabetes, Elizabeth Rose said she would have known how to treat it or find her child the appropriate care, but mental illness is a lot more difficult to manage.
“It’s a lifetime of managing it,” she said.
That’s where the resources of NAMI can and have helped many across the country be able to navigate their loved ones’ mental health through education and advocacy.
Touted as the largest grassroots mental health organization in the nation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness was organized in 1979 and has over 500 local affiliates in states across the country.
The state of Utah has 12 affiliates, Wayne Connors, southwest Utah affiliate chairman, said. The southwest affiliate covers the five-county area of Beaver, Garfield, Kane, Iron and Washington counties, he added.
The all-volunteer group relies on donations to provide their teachers with up-to-date training and materials in order to help individuals and families affected by mental health.
Rose’s mother said the online tools that the organization offers provided a lot of support and connection for her, so both she and her daughter looked into whether there was a local affiliate where they could donate the money.
Rose and both her parent’s posted the cookie fundraiser on their social media profiles and, Rose said, the response was overwhelming.
“It was really amazing, really enthusiastic,” Rose said, adding that her original goal was to raise $500 and she was able to more than double that goal and raise $1,100.
For several days straight, Rose said she would rise early and bake a batch of macarons, then head to rehearsal for a community theater production she is involved in, and then come home to bake more cookies.
Once the baking was done, she personally delivered the orders to each home while her mom drove.
Rose was able to present the check to Connors who said the money will be used by the local affiliate to support, advocate for and educate those in the community who are affected by mental illness.
Connors, who has been the southwest affiliate’s chairman for 10 years now, was impressed with Rose and her desire to help and called her a bright-eyed, self-starter that you don’t often see in the youth today.
“She’s just an extreme delight of a person. It gives you hope for our future,” Connors said.
Elizabeth Rose agreed.
“She’s just a really great girl. She doesn’t feel like shining a light on others dims her light at all,” she said of her daughter. “I think that’s really unique in a teenage girl.”
For Rose, it is all about helping her community and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, she said.
“If I can help the people in my community, that is really great,” Rose said.
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