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Rochester family fundraises to support mental health awareness

Post-Bulletin - 9/23/2023

Sep. 22—ROCHESTER — On her mental health journey, Colleen Lamon encourages people to talk about their fight with suicidal ideation.

"I can tell you that I still live with chronic suicidal ideation," she said of her over 30-year journey. "About twice a week I get this feeling of, 'I don't want to be here,' and my tools are what I have to go to, and I know now how to help others who are going through the same things."

Colleen offers support to people who share her painful experience through the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southeast Minnesota. She teaches a skills class for

dialectical behavior therapy,

which includes individual therapy and group training on accepting the reality of life and how to instill change in one's life. And she's seeking "mental health for all."

NAMI, which is located in Rochester and serves Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Wabasha counties, is part of a large national grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for those affected by mental illness.

Colleen and her family, who "stood with me through this whole thing," are raising funds this weekend for the organization. For Colleen, the fundraising honors her Grandma Cookie and the family's quilting legacy.

"I can tell you with 100% certainty that if I did not have the family that I have I would be living on the streets, and that is not a lie," she said. "That's the situation I am in without my support system."

"The support is so important and not being told that you're crazy or 'just get your stuff together' or 'somebody always has it worse than you.' Or one of the things in my family, with my dad especially, he always used to say, 'She's going to get better,'" she added. "And he finally doesn't say that anymore. He finally has started saying that I have an illness, that it's not going away and now we move forward."


suicide deaths marked a five-year high,

Olmsted County Public Health has

set suicide prevention as one of the "community health improvement priorities,"

Public Health Director Denise Daniels shared in early September. In 2022, the county had 38 suicide deaths reported, according to Chief Medical Examiner Ross Reichard.

Cheryl Lamon, Colleen's mother, said it's a growth process to accept the impacts mental illness has on people, such as ways of thinking and struggling with aspects of life.

"It's a long journey, and ... it's a lot of education but it's a tough deal to accept and to finally come to grips with that it's going to be like this," Cheryl said. "And all you can do is support them and they're going to make poor decisions, they're going to do stupid stuff but you still have to keep loving them. That's the biggest thing."

She hopes to see more people support people with mental illnesses and follow the next generation who are "more (open-minded) about alternative lifestyles and mental illness."

"If I could just get people in my generation to open up their minds a little more (to mental health, death by suicide and alternative lifestyles) but I don't see it happening, it's very rare," Cheryl said. "They got to embrace it and learn about it. They just want to criticize it and not do their education and not do their studying and not do their homework."

When people walked through the doors at Grandma Cookie's they saw signs of hope: artwork on the wall with sayings of happiness and love, joy and faith. She created time for people as a "gentle person," the mother and daughter said.

"She became one of my best friends and she was open and accepting. And the only negative thing I really ever heard her say was 'get over it,'" Colleen said. "She was a very influential person for me in my mental health, too, because I could always count on her to bring my spirits up."

Although Cookie died at 99, the family's NAMIWalks team this weekend honors her quilting legacy. With Cheryl's large collection of "bright, colorful and joyful" quilts, Colleen nudged her mother to give them away for a cause close to their hearts: mental health.

In the process of retiring from her quilt shop in Lanesboro, Cheryl's quilts will bring comfort to new people. She includes messages such as "give thanks," "love more" and "be the light" in the panels for people to read while wrapped in the quilt. The quilting process, too, gives her a way to cope with life's stresses.

With the quilts posted each week since March on Colleen's Facebook, the "Family Quilts in Honor of Grandma Cookie" team has raised $7,041 for NAMI programs as of Thursday evening.

"I make them with love and I do not want any of my quilts in a cedar chest. No way, they need to be used, washed, gotten dirty, cried in, laughed in, cuddled in — but not in a cedar chest," Cheryl said. "They're meant to be worn out and when they're worn out you get a new one."


one in five adults in the United States experiencing mental illness every year,

Colleen and Cheryl said spaces like the

Southeast Regional Crisis Center

are vital. The center, at 2121 Campus Drive SE in Rochester, offers access to mental health staff as a 24-hour walk-in clinic. The center also has 16 beds for short-term care, including evaluation and treatment.

"We got to get facilities for these people. That's the problem. When we take Colleen into the hospital, no beds," Cheryl said. Colleen said she has had 10 hospital stays. "We can't keep going on like this with no beds. We cannot do it."

Mental health resources in the area include:

* The suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. The resource provides free and confidential 24/7 support for people in distress as well as prevention assistance and crisis resources.


Southeast Regional Crisis Center,

located in Rochester, is a 24/7 walk-in mental health facility designed specifically for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

* The

Olmsted County Diversity, Equity, and Community Outreach Team

helps eliminate disparities in publicly delivered Community Corrections services. The team also provides the community with outreach and education on mental health and substance abuse services.

* The

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southeast Minnesota Chapter

offers resources for individuals in crisis, support groups, and peer support.


Wellness in the Woods

offers a "warm line" for those not in crisis but needing a safe and free way to receive confidential and anonymous one-on-one peer support.

NAMIWalks Southeast Minnesota will be held on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Silver Lake Park. For more information on NAMIWalks, visit

"What I tell people is, 'If I'm not taking care of others, I'm not taking care of myself' because that's what I do to take care of myself," Colleen said.

Reporter Randy Petersen contributed to this article.


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