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Yuma mom's group assists mentally ill
Rose “Chacha” Surdyka's son dreamed of growing up to be a policeman or firefighter. But in his teen years he was struck with schizophrenia and he had to give up his dreams.
For many years Surdyka, a teacher in Yuma, felt helpless as she watched her son struggle with the illness. She became increasingly frustrated with the misinformation and stigma associated with the illness, even on the part of government.
She finally decided to do something about it. She started a nonprofit organization, A Mother's Cry Foundation, with the “goal of having the voice of the mentally ill heard in Washington.”
“There are so many people in Arizona suffering from this illness. I am frustrated but not out of hope. Since my son cannot be heard, I will be his voice and the voice of those who suffer with it,” she explained in a letter to supporters.
Surdyka is inviting community members interested in joining the effort to a meeting Feb. 28, from 6-8 p.m., in the back room of Brewers Restaurant & Sports Bar, 2331 S. Avenue B.
She also invites those who want to learn more about mental illness or want to share the struggles of their mentally ill loved ones to attend the meeting.
“We're starting small,” she said.
But already Surdyka and family, friends and supporters have participated in several events to bring attention to the challenges faced by the mentally ill.
Last month they donned T-shirts in light blue, her son's favorite color, and ran in the P.F. Chang's Rock ‘n' Roll Marathon in Tempe and the Yuma Territorial Marathon and Half Marathon. They carried a banner proclaiming: “A Mother's Cry – Support those with Mental Illness.”
They will continue running marathons and plan to hold their own 5K and 10K runs in April and in the future start a half marathon in Yuma.
She's appreciative of the sponsors who have stepped up and helped with expenses, such as paying for the T-shirts and banner, and hopes more people join in spreading awareness and information about the mentally ill.
“These people are misunderstood. There's such a lack of education,” Surdyka said. “What is mental illness? It can be depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar or schizophrenia. It is an illness that takes over one's mind.”
She notes that people might fear the mentally ill because it might result in erratic behavior when the person is not on the proper combination of medication and treatment. This has led to cases where mentally ill people have been jailed, instead of being in a mental hospital, where they can receive appropriate treatment.
Rather than fearing the mentally ill, Surdyka added, people should keep in mind that they are usually defenseless and more likely to be bullied.
She's saddened by the stigma attached to the illness. “Can it be discussed at work, with friends or family members? No, it is usually kept a secret since people cannot handle it, or if told about it, the ill person would be treated differently, like day and night.
“Why is it usually kept a secret by victims and/or family members? For fear of being an outcast, called ‘crazy,'” Surdyka said. “It is an awful disease that society has created a stigma and discrimination, making it more difficult to live with it in everyday life as if their life was not complicated enough. A large majority of people with mental illness are in fact very intelligent.”
She describes her son as “a handsome, kind, funny and intelligent young man,” she said. “My son desired to be either a police officer or a firefighter and was going to college in California. He has so much to offer but is not given a chance. He feels rejection and he feels pain. He is a person like you and me. If the pain for my son is unbearable for me, then his everyday living is a nightmare.”
She hopes the community will support A Mother's Cry Foundation, either with donations or by joining the effort.
“If someone has cancer, as another son battled with it, or any other illness, there is so much outpouring of kindness, support and publicized awareness and foundations. That is not the case with mental illness,” Surdyka said.
Donations can be made to Wells Fargo Account No. 563275 at the bank's branch on East 16th Street.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.