Mark and Lisa Norwine are a typical family, except for one thing: they have spent their lives dealing with mental illness and all the challenges it presents. As we know, one in four people in the United States has a mental health issue, a circumstance which not only affects that individual, but also those who care for them. In that sense, the Norwine family still isn’t that different from any other family that has tried to navigate the complicated path of treatment and recovery. So why are they so special?
Walking Man is their story of one family’s experience with mental illness, but it is also about the larger cultural view of mental illness. Mark and his son Eric set out on a walk across the state of Missouri, trying to spread awareness and break the stigma of talking about mental health. It is this journey that helps the Norwine family—and all of the people who see the film—explore the deep pain, the helplessness, and even the joy that a mental illness and its recovery can bring. The family’s honesty and insight are deeply moving.
Throughout Eric Norwine’s adolescence, he struggled to first name his bipolar disorder, and then to manage it with the help of his parents. Today, Eric is a remarkable 25-year old man. He speaks about his experience with knowledge and insight that many individuals don’t achieve after a lifetime of recovery. As a parent of a young child with bipolar disorder, Mark Norwine tried to help his son through his illness. Mark had a deeper struggle, however, that even he hadn’t identified. Mark had lived for most of his life with undiagnosed bipolar disorder himself. It wasn’t until his suicide attempts at 52 that Mark’s illness was discovered. Unlike many individuals with bipolar disorder, Mark wasn’t experiencing rapid highs and lows, but rather manic and depressive periods in three-year intervals.
It’s been more than three years since Mark’s last episode, and today he works for an organization called CHADS Coalition, talking to schools and students about mental health, bullying prevention, and suicide prevention. Mark’s decision to walk from his home in St. Charles, Missouri to the community of St. Clair (200 miles away) to have discussions with a community that had recently experienced three teenage suicides is just one part of the story in Walking Man.
The Norwine family’s experience and the film Walking Man resonated with us so strongly because of what they see as their ultimate goal: to encourage people to discuss mental health, thereby removing the stigma of having these conversations in the first place. It isn’t so farfetched to think that other people, groups, and organization would have the same goals, but without a large list of donors and highly visible press attention, it can be harder to find each other.
At the end of April, we screened the film five times for nearly 200 people, and Mark and Eric were present at each screening. Josh, the film’s director, was on hand for our screenings in Greeley, and Lisa, Mark’s wife, joined us for the screening in Frederick. Out of those screenings came deep, moving conversations: stories from parents with children who are newly diagnosed with mental illness, others who struggle to care for their loved ones with mental illness, and a strong commitment to spread the word from agency partners from all over Weld County. We met several people who were familiar with North Range’s continuum of services, and many more who weren’t and wanted to learn more. The Norwine story is a story about and for all of us.
Like the Norwine family, North Range Behavioral Health has learned over our years of work in Weld County that recovery is possible. Our approach integrates clinical expertise, proven strategies, and the values, culture, and strengths of those we help in our plans for care. We also know that treatment, expanding access to care, and prevention education require collaborative energy and commitment from our educators, communities, state agencies, and families.
What we have seen result from this joint effort has been nothing short of remarkable. Of course, change takes time, and not everyone who will someday be touched by this family’s story had the opportunity to see it here in Greeley. That’s why we want to help share this message with as many people as we can. We hope you’ll do the same.
Learn more about the film here: