Jonathan Vickrey remembers the day he "sort of lost touch with reality."
In 1999, the 28-year-old UC Merced student suddenly began to act strangely. His parents took him to an urgent care clinic, where he was tested for drugs.
The tests came back negative. Nobody knew how to explain his behavior.
He was later taken to a hospital where he underwent a 72-hour treatment and evaluation.
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When Vickrey was released to return home, the shocking news came -- he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
It wasn't easy for Vickrey to accept the fact that he had a mental illness. "I just wanted to pretend I was a normal kid," he said. "I didn't want people to think I was crazy."
Vickrey knows he's not the only one who has faced those struggles. He has lived with the disorder for 11 years now, he believes there are misconceptions about mental illnesses.
He said that just because a person has a mental illness doesn't mean he's going to become violent and kill someone. "We don't talk about mental illness in the home, just like with AIDS," he said. "That's what's lacking right now. There are a lot of misconceptions and false images."
Vickrey is working to set up a mental health support group in the Merced area. He wants to provide a place for people with mental illness to turn to if they have questions or if they need support.
He also wants to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. He hopes to educate people about the issues and show them that people with mental illness deserve to be accepted. "Everybody needs a community," he said. "Everybody needs to belong to society."
The efforts to spread awareness among the community begin with actions such as the one the Merced City Council took during its Monday night meeting. The council approved a proclamation to recognize Oct. 3-9 as Mental Health Awareness Week.
As requested by Vickrey, the council also proclaimed Oct. 10 as World Mental Health Day. He was at the meeting to accept the proclamations on behalf of Merced's mentally ill.
Vickrey's brother, Yul Rowe, came from Mountain View to attend the council meeting and support his brother. Rowe said Vickrey's passion is to spread awareness. "He's working hard," he said.
Councilwoman Mary-Michal Rawling said any health issue that affects the city should be given priority. She said educating people could make a difference. "By making the general population aware, we are hoping it will lead to solutions," she said.
Mayor Bill Spriggs said he thought the proclamations made by the council were important for two reasons. "First of all, we are a community, and mental health is an issue that probably doesn't get well addressed as it should be," he said. "I think anything that makes the people more aware is worthwhile."
Vickrey has transformed his illness into a strength. He's now majoring in cognitive science.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209)388-6507, or firstname.lastname@example.org.