Emi has been found!
Sincere thanks to the diligent and persistent field work of Kauai Police Detective Barry DeBlake, his canine team, foot patrol, and air rescue team, Emi Oka was found alive in the fields near Kukuiula in Koloa. Thanks also go out to Fred Cowell of Kauai Coffee for the use of his drones to search the coffee fields. It truly was a collaborative effort.
Caleb Loehrer wrote a beautiful article published in the paper Thursday, over one week since Emi went missing. It is truly a miracle that she was found alive. This is the burden that Ike and Ivanka Oka suffer on a daily basis, along with hundreds of thousands of other families who have a loved one with a mental illness.
I am challenging the island of Kauai to end the silence about mental illness. There is so much stigma around this topic that should not be. Mental illness is a physical disease, just like cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s. The only difference is that the brain is ill.
I know there are cultural concerns about the shame and guilt of having a family member with mental illness. This disease does not discriminate. If we don’t start talking about treatment and family support of loved ones suffering from mental illness, there will be more statistics of suicide and missing loved ones.
Kudos to the Kauai Police Department. Under the apt direction of Lt. Todd Tanaka, Kauai Police Department has trained 23 crisis intervention officers. They have also trained every recruit class for the past three years in mental health first aid.
There is now a room in the emergency room dedicated to those suffering from a mental illness while they await medical attention. They no longer have to suffer the indignity of of being on a gurney with a police officer standing over them while they wait for treatment.
If you are interested in learning more about mental health education and support, please contact Kathy Sheffield, executive director, NAMI Kauai, 635-3239. She also teaches mental health first aid classes.
As a community, we are making progress in the awareness of mental illness as a disease. There is still a long way to go.
Won’t you please help us spread the message that there is no shame in having a mental illness?
Kathy Sheffield is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Kauai chapter.