At the downtown YMCA is a World War 2 era poster The Last evidence that anybody cares that describes their role in keeping hope alive during those dark days. I think about that poster as I walk or jog past. Only now do I understand how apt that sign is in reference to me. As a peer specialist I am the last evidence that anybody cares about someone living with a mental illness. The last evidence that there is hope and recovery from distress. The last evidence that someone’s diagnosis can be overcome and that it won’t mean a life of drooling, shuffling and smoking 2 or 3 packs a day. I am the evidence that recovery is possible.
I recovered and many people say I look young for my age. Some folks with mental illness look older than they really are. But how can you tell that anybody cares what happens? Our system in mental health is not living up to many of the promises that were made regarding shifting from hospital based treatment to reintegration into the community. Some people are getting the support that they need and are living very normal lives. Their friends and co-workers may not have ever known about these individuals getting mental health services. Due to the stigma resulting from getting help, their friends might not have felt comfortable speaking up.
I am hopeful that in 2014, things will begin to change. Milwaukee County is rolling out a comprehensive Medicaid benefit that can help begin to assist people in getting what they need. These benefits are intended to fill in the gap between the two existing types of mental health benefits. Peer support is one of the services that are covered because it has been tested and proven effective.
My sister got help in recovering from depression, which is something that runs in our family. I used my veterans benefits in accessing a program connected to the Veterans Administration. I excited that one missing element, which is peer support, has been added to veterans’ services.
There is recovery from depression, which had darkened many of my earlier days. Now I am able to help others. There is DryHootch America helping veterans,there are people to call and talk with before making a permanent mistake regarding a temporary problem.
Peer support offers something that the nurses, psychiatrists and case managers don’t offer which is someone to talk with and understanding from someone who has walked in your shoes. Knowing that someone cares can help people people away from that ledge and think let’s try just another day. That’s what I did when I felt overwhelmed. I thought about how much I missed my brother who had died years ago and I said, if there was anything that could help me survive, I owed it to myself to try it. Think about it.
Mental illness is a hope killer and a dream wrecker far too often. It’s very cruel in the way that certain very debilitating conditions strike. Imagine being in your late teens or early twenties and suddenly beginning to hear voices and having difficulty separating reality from your thoughts. Imagine hoping that one day things will get better. I was at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex and a young, visibly pregnant woman was waiting to hear about her mother’s commitment hearing. How many bouts of mother madness had she experienced? No doubt, far too many.
Sometimes people are driven to extreme acts, such as threatening suicide, just to cry out for relief from the pain. And in reality we’re not going to be able to save everyone. The increasing number of suicides among deployed troops is one tragic reminder of the toll that mental illness exacts from people. What we peer specialists try to do is instill a small still voice of hope, provide the evidence that it is worth trying one more day, to each person that we meet.
- Police did not regard offences of mentally ill man who died in custody as serious enough to warrant care (independent.co.uk)
- Stigma, Society, and Specialty Choice: What’s Going On? by Sam Huber (juggleglass.com)
- Mental Health: Fight Stigma AND Improve Care (notunlikeresearch.typepad.com)
- Combatting Mental Illness Stigma in Society (psychcentral.com)
- A peer support bucket list (hopeworkscommunity.wordpress.com)