Speaker’s Forum

Honoring Memorial Day & Mental Health Awareness Month Heroes: Veterans, First Responders and Artists
The Memorial Day holiday is a time to honor our armed services veterans and first responders – those
who died, those who survived, and those currently on active duty defending our national security at
home and abroad.

As May comes to an end, so does Mental Health Awareness Month – an opportune time to honor mental health heroes. It’s a time to thank brain science researchers searching for mental health breakthroughs, diagnostic capabilities and patient-specific remedies; first responders who are trained in crisis intervention and know how to safely defuse a volatile mental health crisis; and the many grass-roots mental health advocates and non-profits striving locally and nationally to deliver effective mental health programs and services. Equally important are the courageous veterans, children, teens, adults and seniors who embrace life to the fullest while living with mental health challenges.

Since launching The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project in September 2014, in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, I have met many such heroes. In sharing their personal stories, they demonstrate levels of commitment and resilience that inspire me. Our project includes a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com – “A safe place for the mind to speak, giving mental illness a life-affirming voice.” We encourage people impacted by mental illness and their caregivers to express their emotions through art: drawings, paintings, photography, poetry, prose and music.

For too long, the stigma of mental illness and impairment has kept it cloaked in darkness and denial. This places an additional burden on those who live with it every day plus their caregivers, families and loved ones. Many of these adults, teens and children are seeking to live full, productive lives. They are successfully integrating their mental health challenges into their daily lives but don’t wish to be defined by them.

Anthony Azmitia is one of our NAMI artists and one of my heroes. He is in his late 30’s and is a talented artist. He’s articulate, highly observant, and has a wonderful, warm sense of humor that often surfaces in his art. The mediums he uses as “canvases” for many of his pieces are creative and unique: old LP records, bricks, wood blocks and cassette covers, to name a few. He is anchored by caring parents and sustained by his strong religious beliefs. When he lived in New York City, he participated in a structured program that matched him with a roommate and helped him find a job, allowing the two men to live in an apartment with support services available, when needed. Anthony loved the autonomy and he thrived. He dedicated himself to honing his artistic skills and was rewarded when some of his paintings debuted at Pure Vision Arts (http://www.purevisionarts.org/).

Unfortunately, the living arrangement didn’t last and Anthony was forced to move back home. When his parents retired to SW Florida he came with them. It’s been an adjustment for the family. Thankfully, he has found a welcoming home away from home at the NAMI-Collier Sarah Ann Adult Drop-In Center. That’s where I first met Anthony and viewed his artwork. I was very moved by his warm heart, his sensitive, caring nature, and his leadership capabilities. This spring, Caroline Ridgway, a third-generation SW Florida business leader and philanthropist, and a handful of sponsors and supporters hosted the Old Naples Arts and Entertainment Event, featuring artwork by artists similar to Anthony. It was juried by Kristine and Juliana Meek from Harmon-Meek Gallery. Anthony sold two pieces and received the Best in Show Blue Ribbon. His self-esteem soared and he told me, “This is my dream come true.” Anthony’s artwork is displayed at http://www.writeonmymind.com/the-art-gallery/.

The visual arts can be a powerful communicator, beyond words. It can send a message and teach us if we are open to it. Working together, coupled with adequate financial and human resources and effective life-skills programs and services, we can make our communities safer and welcoming for those living with mental health challenges. There is so much untapped potential – let’s give it a life-affirming voice and wings to fly.

Thanks to BetterAfter50.com and NaplesNews.com for publishing a shorter version of this article. Click here to view the BA50 article. Click here to view the Naples Daily News article.

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We welcome artwork, photos, poetry, prose and multi-media works created by children, teens and adults
for display on our website galleries.
About The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project: After losing her youngest adult son to suicide, Deena Baxter launched The Surviving Suicide & Sudden Loss Project in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL, in September 2014. The project’s mission is to promote life-affirming mental wellness. It includes a book, a creative arts website, www.WriteOnMyMind.com, and outreach presentations. The book is titled, SURVIVING SUICIDE – Searching for “Normal” with Heartache and Humor: All profit from book sales flows to NAMI of Collier County, FL. Hard copy books are available at major booksellers while supply lasts. The eBook is available on Amazon and the Apple store. The book has been endorsed by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. (TAPS).

Upcoming Presentations & Events: Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter is making presentations at venues throughout SW Florida – and beyond. See below for upcoming presentations. If you have a professional organization, company, civic, social or church group who would be interested in a mental mending presentation, contact her at DeenaBaxter2@gmail.com for more information. View a summary of past presentations and photos at: http://www.writeonmymind.com/whats-news/.Recent May 2017 presentations:
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Saturday, May 6, 2017
Time: 1:00 – 2:00pm, Lunch Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Missouri
NAMI-Missouri Annual Conference
Holiday Inn Expo Center
2200 I-70 Drive S.W., Columbia, MO 65203 
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: SURVIVING SUICIDE – Mending the Family Tree with Heartache, Art and Humor
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Friday, May 19, 2017
Time: 12:30pm Luncheon Speaker
National Alliance on Mental Illness – Michigan
NAMI-Michigan Annual Conference
Detroit Marriott Livonia
17100 Laurel Park Drive North, Livonia, MI 48152
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: OUT TO LUNCH – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide
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Saturday, May 20, 2017
Conference Time: 10:00am – 3:00pm
Presentation Time: 10:15am – 11:15am
Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.) Macomb County, MI, Annual Conference
Macomb Intermediate School District Building
44001 Garfield Rd., Clinton Township MI 48038
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: MENTAL MENDING – Searching for “Normal” After Suicide

Here are some upcoming presentations. 
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Time: 3:30pm – 5:00pm
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Collier County, FL
Crisis Intervention Training (C.I.T.) Consumer Panel Presentation
Author & Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter will be a panelist

6216 Trail Boulevard, Building C
Naples, FL 34108-2835
This is a closed event.
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Friday, August 4, 2017
Plenary Presentation: 10:30 – Noon
Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity Biennial Convention
Convention Theme: “Preserving our Future”
Naples Grande Beach Resort
475 Seagate Dr, Naples, FL 34103
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: UNDERSTANDING SUICIDE – A Lived Story of Sudden Loss & Search for “Normal”
For members only. Registration required.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017 
Presentation Time: Noon – 1:00pm
The Silent Epidemic: A Conference on Suicide
Hosted by The Kevin’s Song Foundation
The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road, Plymouth MI 48170
Presenter: Author and Mental Health Advocate Deena Baxter
Topic: TBA
Open to the public. Registration required.
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Best regards,
Deena Baxter and Team NAMI-Collier
The Surviving Suicide and Sudden Loss Project
A Partnership with NAMI of Collier County, FL

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