Thursday, May 14, 2015

The State Of Mental Illness Education and Advocacy

(Photo Credit:

Yesterday my town held a "mental illness fair". I really wanted to go and see what was offered and to see what my town could conjure up for consumers of mental health services.

My mom and I were greeted at the door with a green awareness ribbon to wear and we began wandering around. One of the very first booths we found was Dr. K.'s booth and we stopped to chat with him about things. Right now my mom is very interested in finding a way to get a halfway house set up in our community for people like Thomas who have a mental illness and want to be independent but that aren't quite ready to jump in fully. We talked a little with Dr. K. about it and both my mom and I left his booth feeling like he felt that was too much of an undertaking and he seemed a bit disenchanted with the idea, almost as if he'd been there, done that. What struck me was his lack of enthusiasm in the face of someone (my mom) wanting to begin to change the landscape of mental illness advocacy in our area. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed but luckily it didn't deter my mom. She would spend the rest of the fair in search of people who either knew of something like she wants to start or if they supported possibly opening something like that. My mom is beautiful in that way, because she has a grandson with a serious mental illness, she would move heaven and earth to get him the right resources. Granted what she dreams of is a huge thing but I'm a big proponent of following your dreams because I have lived first hand that if you want them bad enough and move towards making them possible, that eventually they will come true.

Next we stopped at a booth where they were offering rehabilitation services to the mentally ill. I did not know that something like this existed in our town. We talked with them for a long time. I met and talked to Andy Ruggiero of Sequel Alliance Family Services and he told us all about how their program, which is funded by Medicaid (hooray!), can help Thomas get on his feet and become more independent. I listened to him talk and then asked him about a specific scenario. I told him that Thomas couldn't drive and that he was anxious about learning the city bus system and riding the bus. Andy told me that they would teach him all about how to do that and would even ride with him on the bus to help him feel more comfortable. It seemed to me that these people were heaven sent and I took all of their information and tucked it away to be read later that evening. I was completely impressed by their mission and I plan on taking full advantage of their services for Thomas. This is exactly what he needs and when I came home and told him about it he was very excited.

The next important booth we stopped at was our regional medical center's mental health facility and outpatient care. Looking back it was pretty hilarious because this was the table filled with all kinds of free goodies (my favorite was a purple brain-shaped stress ball) and they really looked like they cared. The operative word here for me is "looked" like they cared. I pinned one of the ladies down and began talking with her about the services offered and I proceeded to dig into "The 5th Floor" which is our mental health hospital floor where Thomas has been hospitalized twice and gotten pretty crappy care. This woman talked a good game about how fantastic they were and promised me that if Thomas were ever there again that he would get adequate care.



Yeah, not the word I wanted to hear. "Fantastic" would have been a better word, and even "phenomenal" would have been the perfect word but "adequate" was what I got and "adequate" is not enough for me or for my feelings of comfort about putting Thomas there if he gets sick again. You see, through the grapevine of several respected mental health providers that I have run into, I have been warned that our regional medical center and it's mental health section are in disarray (to put it mildly) and I've been told more than once to avoid the place at all costs. That's not a comforting thing to learn when you know it's inevitable that your loved one with mental illness will eventually end up there again.

I took my purple brain-shaped stress ball, tossed it in my bag and walked away from that booth in disgust. They clearly have a long way to go before I'm even sort of excited about their services.

We wandered the rest of the booths and my last favorite one was River Place Counseling and Wellness, PLLC. There I met Mark Whitinger, M.A., M.Ed. and Nina Woods, M.Ed. Ed. S.. I absolutely loved these two people and what their business provides and I give them kudos for what they are doing. Even better they were very enthusiastically interested in what I do with my blog (website and Facebook page) and they both took my card and promised that they'd refer people to my work. I was so excited because I wanted a chance to get a following here in my area. I have so many of you from everywhere yet just one from my area and I think it's time to get my community more involved. At least those with schizophrenia and their caregivers.

Noticeably absent from the "fair' was our local police department who I had hoped to run into and talk to them about their crisis intervention training for mental illness calls but we told the woman running the fair that we felt the police needed to be represented in future events. She thought that was a fantastic idea and said she would invite them next year. I hope that will be the case.

Lastly, very (to me) noticeably absent was my local NAMI. Where were they?!?!? The coordinator at the fair told me that they had invited them and that they had been unable to make it.



Right then and there I made a mental note that at the next fair, I would be the one running the booth for my local NAMI. It was utterly ridiculous that they weren't there and I plan on changing that for the future. I did find out, however, that they had a meeting that night and I decided to attend it. My next post will be about that meeting because I think it needs to be talked about. The mentally ill and their caregivers are woefully without support and advocacy and in my opinion it is NAMI's responsibility to do that job. I will share, tomorrow, how that meeting went.

All in all, the fair was interesting but really could have used more booths. I am being torn in two directions because I want to represent NAMI next year but I also think that caregivers of someone with a mental illness need a booth of their own, if even just for a place to stop for a second and pick up a heart-shaped stress ball with "you are not alone" printed on the side.

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