Enhancing the Medicaid Peer Provider Workforce

In July 2014, Joyce Jorgenson and I were contracted by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) to create a toolkit on enhancing the Medicaid Peer Provider Workforce.  We worked with the National Association of Consumer/Survivors Mental Health Administrators (NAC/SMHA) in developing the toolkit.  Joyce and I did all the research and wrote the document and NAC/SMHA did a great job giving us feedback and helping us edit the toolkit.

Both Joyce and I would like to thank NASMHPD for their financial support for this project and also NAC/SMHA for their tireless effort in reviewing the toolkit.  Click on the link below to download a copy of the toolkit.



Beating Depression

Today people are beating depression.  There was a time when people lived with the debilitating effects of depression because there wasn't any hope of recovery.  How people become depressed hasn't changed, but the outcome has changed.  Negative thoughts regarding relationships, career, health, and personal issues are considered harmful for our mental health. Thinking of bad situations beforehand is also regarded as unnecessary, since the person's way of thinking affects his or her outlook in life. These ruminating negative thoughts can cause a pessimistic way of thinking that could seriously affect a person's otherwise healthy way of living.         

By consistently thinking and feeling down, a person might be already experiencing depression. A person dealing with this condition may also feel irritable for no apparent cause, together with lack of energy and concentration. Depression is not a one-time event. If a person has experienced depression at some time in his/her life, the chances of a recurrence are high. Some people exhibit depression in various ways. Symptoms of such can be the following: consistent feelings of sadness, tension, and irritability; change in appetite with considerable gain or loss of weight; restlessness; change in sleeping patterns; decrease in pleasure of doing usual hobbies and interests; lack of decision making skills; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness; and thoughts of suicide and death.                     

People suffering from this kind of feeling may not seek help from other people, even from their own family members. Depression is believed to be a mental health issue that affects many people, and treating it would be very critical since it affects not just the sufferer, but everyone and everything in their lives. Other people dealing with depression sometimes attempt to harm themselves convinced that these negative feelings will never end. This is why everyone should be aware of the symptoms of depression and know that it is treatable.  We now know that many people live in recovery.

Depression results from a number of factors, depending on the person and his/her surroundings. Family history plays a vital role in having this mental health issue. Another factor triggering it can be trauma and stressful situations.  Death, financial problems, relationship breakups, and changes in your life (be it a new job, school graduation, or getting married) can contribute to feeling depressed. Some people also possess the trait of pessimism, where they usually have a negative outlook on life or having low self esteem. Physical health conditions also cause depression. Serious illnesses including cancer, HIV, or heart disease can trigger depressive thoughts since these health conditions make a person feel stressed.  By feeling depressed, these medical conditions might make things even worse than they already are. Other psychological disorders including anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and particularly substance abuse can easily make a person feel depressed.

"I had a black dog, his name was depression" is a video by The World Health Organization about depression:

Being depressed can really make people feel bad, inside and out. But by taking the first step, which is to get proper treatment, depression can deliberately be healed. There are several medications specifically designed for the treatment of depression. Another way to take away feelings of depression is through psychotherapy.  By expressing feelings and sharing it with a therapist, depression can be eased. Types of psychotherapy includes the cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps in identifying thought and behavior patterns related to feeling depressed. Interpersonal therapy, on the other hand, deals with the connection of depression and troubled relationships.  A longer therapy process would be the psycho-dynamic therapy, which links depression to certain events and conflicts that a person has experienced especially during childhood.  Group therapy is more an interaction with other people who are depressed, sharing experiences with the therapist and group members to find solutions to problems.

Self-help is another way to deal with depression and work toward recovery and healing.  There are many self-help group meetings that people can attend to get support, share information and find ways to help themselves.  Most important is finding out that no one is alone and that other people are living with depression too.  The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has support groups that meet in cities around the country.  DBSA not only has in-person support groups, but on-line support groups too.  If you think you have depression or you have been diagnosed with it, you can go to their website to find a support group in your community or online.  They also have stories of recovery that you can read which will give you hope that you can get better too.  You can sign up for their newsletter too.

Another excellent tool is WRAP—Wellness Recovery Action Plan.  Many people around the world use WRAP as their recovery tool.  It’s your plan on what works for you.  I know that many of you reading this post use WRAP or know of someone who uses it.  If you haven’t developed a WRAP the best time to start is now.  You can contact the Copeland Center to find out about WRAP and where you can attend training in your area.  If you have peer support services in your area talk with someone who is a peer who can direct you to an upcoming WRAP training.

What is really important for you to know is that you can overcome depression.  You can have a life of wellness when you take the steps necessary to help yourself—seek treatment and find a support group.  You will find that life is really worth living when you take advantage of the resources available to you in your community.

How I Got a Job When I Was Mentally Ill and Broke

In 1979 I was working for my sister transcribing when she told me that she was running out of work and could no longer keep me working; she had to do the work herself.  Fear came over me because I didn't have any self-esteem; I believed no one would hire me.  It was November, close to Thanksgiving and I needed December’s rent money, money for bills, and food and Christmas gifts for the kids.  I started hearing voices, feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of looking for work.  Fear knotted in my stomach.  My heart pounded in my chest.  I paced in small circles.

I was in a group therapy at Anchorage Community Mental Health Center that was with my psychiatrist, therapist and other clients.  I brought this up at group one night, telling everyone I was afraid that no one would hire me because I didn’t have good skills.  The members encouraged me and suggested that I type up a resume and bring it the next week to group so they could see it.  I worked hard on it.  I went to the library, researching how to write a resume.  I had it ready for the group the next week and passed it out to everyone.  As they read it, individuals said that I had experience and I could do secretarial work.   They encouraged me to look for a job through the newspaper and employment agencies.

I searched newspapers, but it was the holiday season, no one was hiring so I decided to go to an employment agency.  I had to pass a typing test with 60 words per minute and no more than 5 errors.  I flunked the test.  The staffing rep told me to go downstairs, have a cup of coffee and come back to retest.  I was trembling.   I returned after my cup of coffee; took the test; and flunked it again. 

She told me to go downstairs, take a walk up and down the block and say to myself, "I am now passing the typing test at 60 words per minute with no errors!" and to come back and retest when I was ready.  After an hour, I went back upstairs, retook the test and I flunked.  I was devastated.  The voices were telling me, "You're so dumb.  You can't pass this test.  Just go home and kill yourself." 

I began crying and the staffing rep took me into a room so that we could talk privately.  I told her that I had been diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia.  I shared that I was told that my life was over and that I would never be able to work.  I told her that a previous therapist told me I had to accept that I was mentally ill; I needed to sign up for welfare, aid to families with dependent children, housing assistance and food stamps. 

I told the rep that working would help me recover.  I explained that I had more fear of the welfare system than going to work and I wanted to prove the experts wrong.  She said, "We can help you.  Here's our next step.  I'm giving you spelling, word comprehension, English and math tests."  She added, “I know you can pass them."  She was right; I passed all of them.  She was so excited, "I knew you could do this! Go home, come back tomorrow and retest your typing again.”  She suggested I continue the affirmation.

That night my friend Nancy called.  "I've been praying for you and impressed on my heart is something I must tell you.  You are to start taking God at his word in Exodus 23:10 and pray without ceasing the following: "God is sending an angel before you to lead you to the place God has prepared for you.  You are to change one word.  You are to remove "place" and insert "job."  Your prayer is:  "God is sending an angel before me to lead me to the job God has prepared for me."  I wrote it down. I began reading it at night, in the morning, before I went to the employment agency, and I continued the typing test affirmation too.

The next morning I flunked the test again.  The staffing rep said, "Follow me.  I want to show you something."  She laid out my English, spelling, word comprehension and math tests.  "Look at your scores.  Nothing less than 98%.” She said, “you have what it takes to be a secretary."  Then she laid out my typing tests.  My name and dates were on the top.  She pointed out saying, "Look at this first one.  Your typing speed is very slow and you had many errors.  Look at the second one.  There is improvement even though you flunked it.  Look at the third one. See how much more you improved since the first test."  I saw a pattern emerge as she showed them to me.  It gave me hope that I could pass the test! 

"I want you to come back every day to retake the test until you pass" she urged.  It took me almost two weeks to pass it.  When I did, I passed with 60 words per minute and 3 errors!  She declared, "Great!  Now I can send you out on interviews!"  

She began referring me to companies to interview.  I didn’t get offers, but she told me not to give up that my job is out there waiting for me!  It was like she knew about the Angel that God sent to lead me to my job!  One day that week, my sister called to tell me that  my attorney who handled my divorce said there was money left and he was sending a check by messenger to her office for me. It was enough for the rent, some food and Christmas gifts for the children! 

It was close to Christmas now and I still didn't have a job.  The staffing rep called and asked if I would take a 6-day temporary job during Christmas and New Year's weeks.  "Absolutely!" I said.  I had another problem though.  I was taking Thorazine which made me sleep a lot, making it hard to wake up in the morning.  I was afraid I would not make it to the temporary job on time.  That night, I knelt down and prayed, "Thank you for the temporary job!  Help me get to work the next 6 days on time.  If I can make 6 days, then I can work. I trust you."  When I went to group the next night, I told them about my fear of not being able to get up on time to go to work.  They came up with a strategy.  During those 6 days everyone would take turns calling me so that I would wake up to go to work.  One person volunteered to call me at 6:00 am; another volunteered to call me at 6:15 am, another at 6:30 am, another at 6:45 am and another at 7:00 am.  They suggested that by that time, I would be awake and I could make it to work on time.

Well, I made it on time every day thanks to my friends in group.  On my last day on the job, they asked me to come back for the month of January to help the Office Manager.  Before the end of January 1980, I was offered a full-time job and I knew this was "the job that God had prepared for me!"  I held the job for 5 years.  I continued to have episodes of "mental illness," but they gave me support.  I was right, the job helped me recover.  With the support of family and friends and a lot of hard work, I did recover from this thing called "mental illness."

A Perspective on the Recovery Process

Recovery is a process that takes place over time by regaining or restoring one’s life to healthy living and well-being. Recovery involves changing thinking and attitudes. It means action. It promotes emotional and spiritual growth. It begins with self-acceptance and self-change–mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s holistic in nature, involving the whole person and his/her life.

What most of us know about recovery is usually identified with a person who may be addicted to alcohol. Our focus, however, is mental illness. It has been widely accepted and promoted that mental illness is an incurable brain disease. Just as alcoholism has become accepted as a disease too. A disease is defined in the dictionary as any departure from health, whether mental or physical. If disease is a departure from health, then recovery is the act of restoration to health.

As stated above, mental illness has been accepted as an incurable disease. When we think of “incurable”, we find it defined in the dictionary as “a person diseased beyond hope of recovery and possibility of cure”. When we talk about “cure”, exactly what do we mean? The dictionary defines it as “to heal for that which is broken.” It states further that “diseases are cured, wounds are healed.” Additionally, when we think of “cure”, we think in terms of a health professional or doctor providing some medication or treatment that will affect healing or in this context “cure”.

Cure leads us to look outside ourselves for a treatment or medication. On the other hand, recovery leads us to look within ourselves to attitudes and thinking, and it requires action. Recovery promotes growth–emotional and spiritual, equally requiring action on the part of the “diseased” person. “Cure” usually applies to symptoms. Whereas, recovery applies to the entire person: thinking, attitudes, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, lifestyle, intimate relationships, career, employment and financial.

One area where people seem to have the biggest problem is in the spiritual area of recovery. Many people confuse this area with religion. It really doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Spirituality is simply a way of living. It’s the basis of moving from the negative to the positive. This means moving from fear to trust; self-pity to gratitude; resentment to acceptance; dishonesty to honesty. It helps us define the patterns in how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world we live in. These patterns guide our lives to be positive, healthy, fulfilling and life-giving or negative, self-defeating, and destructive.

Promoting a view of mental illness as incurable tends to promote the idea of disease and it becomes a process of negativity, self-defeating and destructive. For recovery to begin, people must hear and know that other people diagnosed with mental illness recovered. They must understand that one does not start with even a profound desire to recover, that others first began to nurture the recovery process within themselves.  Additionally, one must realize that it’s not necessary to have a college degree or a high school diploma to recover. It includes knowing that if others have done it then it’s possible for anyone to do it.

We have all heard of the person with an alcohol addiction that everyone gave up on and that person recovered. This same truth holds true for even a person considered most severely mentally ill that everyone believes is beyond hope of recovery. Anyone given an opportunity to recover and who acts on it stands a good chance of recovering. The recovery process includes the encouragement of others who have been through it and recovered and supporting those who are trying. Additionally, families and professionals need to provide support whenever a person diagnosed with mental illness falls short in the process.

There’s nothing magical in recovery. It takes commitment, work, perseverance, inspiration, and perspiration. Additionally, as stated above, it takes encouragement and support by a lot of people for anyone diagnosed with mental illness to succeed in the recovery process. Most of all, it takes time. It takes application and practice. It gives way to self-understanding, knowledge, and participation in life. The end result of recovery from the consequences of mental illness is no longer seen with shame and stigma. It is viewed with a grateful and humble heart for having experienced it.

Recovery is a process that brings with it pain and healing. It can’t be forced. It needs to be directed and influenced with the truth. It must be nurtured as you would nurture and care for a tiny seed that has been planted. It must be watered with understanding and love. It must be given the sunshine of kind words and enthusiasm. It must be allowed to grow and develop as a beautiful flower.

An Important Recovery Step: Self-Responsibility

Self-responsibility is an important step in recovery.  What does it mean to be responsible for your self? One of the first steps is to just accept yourself the way you are. Sometimes we're not very happy with our lives, but we cannot make them any better if we don’t first accept ourselves and our lives as we are.

When we begin to accept ourselves, it's important to understand that blaming others, chemical imbalances, genes, or conditions and circumstances must stop. It's easy to blame our illnesses on something or somebody. The hard part is accepting and taking responsibility for our illnesses.  You might be thinking, "Well, does that mean I begin to blame myself if nothing or nobody else is at fault?" No, that's not what this means at all. It's just that if you are going to improve and recover, the blame game must end. This just puts us in a better frame of mind to begin to make changes in our selves; it helps us begin to take control back of our lives.

It’s important to understand that circumstances and conditions, and even others can and do contribute to episodes of what is called mental illness. When I think I have no control over things around me, I begin to lose control of my feelings, thoughts and actions. My feelings, thoughts and actions may begin to escalate and without insight I am overwhelmed and my inner world collapses, which brings on relapse.

We have all heard of the principle "know thyself.” When I begin to accept and stop blaming, then I am able to start to know myself. I can then take a personal inventory of myself so I can see areas where I need to improve. This helps me take responsibility for my own recovery. This is how we begin to get insight into our condition.

It’s also important to understand that what is called mental illness is just like any other illness. When we see it as an extraordinary illness to other illnesses, this view keeps us helpless to be able to do anything about it. As we change our thinking about it and give it the same importance as a cold, the flu, a sore throat, a toothache, then we are not powerless to help ourselves. Even people with other chronic illnesses that may be life threatening, such as heart disease or cancer, have to keep their illness in perspective so that they can still live as satisfying and productive a life as possible. It’s about taking the extraordinary and making it ordinary, such as getting to the point where you see it as an interruption in your life rather than robbing you of your life.

Using this insight as an example, how does one take responsibility for mental illness without blame and begin to view it as any other illness? Well, when I get a cold or sore throat, I begin feeling achy, my throat is scratchy, my nose begins to run. What circumstances or conditions contributed to it? I may have been around a friend or loved one who had a sore throat; I may have been where it was drafty; I may have overworked myself and let myself run down.

Even someone with heart disease needs to take responsibility for the illness as well. They must look at their life style and how it contributed to their heart disease. They may have to ask what circumstances and conditions contributed to it? Being a workaholic and taking work home; eating rich and fatty foods; lack of exercise; not managing reaction to stress; ignoring the warning signs.

Any number of things may have contributed to it and this gives me an awareness of how I may have become sick. When I gain insight as to cause then I can take steps toward prevention. Are relapses triggered by my reaction to stress? When I miss a night of sleep, does it cause a manic high? Do I isolate from friends and not answer the telephone when they call?  Do I feel guilty thinking that I caused a disaster that I read about in the newspaper? When this happens, do I hear voices blaming me and telling me to hurt myself?

There are things that we can do to gain back self-control. As we take responsibility for the illness and our lives, we become self-reliant and competent. Recovery is learned through a process of perspiration, inspiration, hard work, relapse, setbacks, and gains.  For instance, in order to manage my reaction to stress, I can take a class on how to handle stress through meditation, relaxation, yoga, tai chi or I can see a therapist. When I miss a night of sleep, I can do something about it as well.  I can make sure everything I need for the next day is laid out and ready to go in the morning, such as breakfast, lunch in the refrigerator, select clothes to wear the next day.  I can take a bath and play quiet music in the background.  I can read something inspirational.  I don’t need to  stimulate my mind further by watching television or listening to loud music.  Rather than isolate, I can call a friend and talk on the phone; I can meet a friend for a cup of coffee; I can invite a friend over. 

When I think that I caused a disaster that I read about and feel guilty, then I need to do a reality check.  I may need to sit down with paper and pencil and read through the article again.  Did it happen in New York City and I live in Chicago?  “I didn’t cause a disaster when I haven’t been in the city at the time the disaster happened.”  I might write out this statement in large letters so that I can read it whenever I feel guilty about the disaster.  I can also read it aloud to myself when I hear voices.  I can divert my attention from  the voices by listening to music.  I can work a crossword puzzle or call a friend on the phone.  I can also get some peer support or talk this through with my therapist as well.  

What’s really important is that you realize there are techniques, strategies, and skills that you can learn from others or develop yourself.  By applying them, you gain experience and eventually can increase your recovery and reduce relapse.   This is called prevention.  Recovery takes time.  While you’re learning you may still relapse.  This is only a setback and is not permanent.  Relapses are only temporary.  It’s important that you continue doing the work of recovery, and not give up on yourself.  It helps to have a strong, natural support system as well to provide mutual support during this period.  In time, you’ll find yourself back in the place you were prior to the relapse.  Remember recovery takes time; it’s faith (belief that you can do it) and works (application of techniques, strategies, and skills) that get you where you want to be; and it’s support.

The following are the steps outlined in this column:

I.      Self-responsibility is necessary in recovery.

2.    Begin by accepting yourself the way you are and where you are.

3.    Stop the blame game.

4.    Begin to use the principle "know thyself' by taking a personal inventory of yourself.

5.    Change your belief about mental illness by treating it as an ordinary illness that is common to  anyone in society.

6.    Take back self-control by learning and applying techniques, strategies, and skills.

Remember, recovery is possible when we begin to take responsibility for ourselves.


They Said I Would Never Get Better

By Andrea Schmook, Reprinted from:
The Experience of Recovery
Edited by LeRoy Spaniol and Martin Koehler
They said I would never get better. I would always be mentally ill. They said I would be in and out of mental hospitals the rest of my life. I could never be the person I was before my mental illness. I made up my mind in the mental hospital that I would prove them wrong. I would get better and help others know they could too.
The year was 1977, just two years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a patient institutionalized for 15 years who brought a suit for release and won. As a result, 250,000 mental patients were deinstitutionalized after years of hospitalization. At the time, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska. I had lived there since 1957, when I was twelve years old. Beginning in May 1974, my husband and I had gone through six major crises in an eight month period that led up to my getting mentally ill. Because of the enormous, chronic stress I was under, I broke not only mentally, but physically, socially and spiritually as well. Beginning in July 1976, I started hearing voices and had to quit work. I had no insight as to what was happening. Although I was on Thorazine, I was not getting any better. I continued to hear voices, experience hallucinations, and became delusional. I couldn’t function any longer as a wife and and mother. I was out of control and my life was falling apart. By January 1977, I went into the Alaska Psychiatric Hospital after becoming delusional and thinking I was the Virgin Mary.
The Alaska State Police were called to escort me to the mental hospital. Within twenty minutes of signing myself in, I was forced drugged against my will. This had a very negative effect on me. It set me up to resist treatment and medications after getting out of the hospital. It was just one more traumatic event added to the others that had led up to my institutionalization.
I wanted to get better right from the beginning. However, I didn’t find any support from professionals. I was very frustrated. I asked if there were any groups of people who had been mentally ill and had gotten better. I wanted to meet with them. I was told there weren’t any such groups because people with mental illness did not get better. I asked if I could have just one person’s name that had been in my situation. I was told that confidentiality laws prevented the professionals from giving me any names. I felt as if I had both feet nailed to the floor. I felt alone. I felt hopeless. However, this didn’t stop me. It made me more determined than ever to keep my resolve to get better. I was very frustrated. They told me I was denying my illness. I wasn’t denying it. I accepted my illness.
My whole life had collapsed around me and it seemed like there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it. But living with mental illness the rest of my life was not something I wanted to do. I wanted to sleep all the time, making it difficult to function on a daily basis. The simplest tasks were no longer easy to perform. My frustration gave way to tears, self-pity, and resentment. I wanted answers and the mental health system didn’t have any.
I was told my mental illness was caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. I was told I had a brain disease. I asked how they knew this. Did they take any tests to determine this? I didn’t remember my blood being tested for any such thing. I was never given any answer. I was put on Thorazine. Thorazine made me sleep too much and slowly my will was being destroyed. I felt flat and empty inside. Besides, I had the Thorazine shuffle when I walked; I drooled and my tongue stuck out from time to time. It was very embarrassing. I didn’t know these were side effects to the medication. No one had told me this. I thought I was much more mentally ill than I was. I was over-medicated from 1976 to the end of 1980. I seemed to be a zombie on Thorazine.
After I got out of the mental hospital, I asked my psychiatrist what happened to me. His only comment was, "What the hell do you care?" He was very flippant about it. He said he would not tell me because it was not in my best interest to know. It took me three months to build up the courage to go back to the mental hospital and ask the social worker what had happened. He explained that I had an acute paranoid schizophrenic episode. He was very kind to me when we talked. He tried to answer my questions and help me understand. I found it very difficult to understand at this point. Mostly, I felt hurt and humiliated and I just wanted it all to go away.
December 1978, my husband decided to divorce me and left me with two young children. I wanted to work. My conscience told me I had to work. I had to face reality if I wanted to get well again. My therapist tried to convince me to go on welfare; to get food stamps; to get housing assistance; to get aid for families with dependent children. I told her that, in good conscience, I couldn’t do that. I wanted to get better. She told me, "You can’t make it without welfare. You will fail and you will lose your children." We argued about this on several visits, until finally I told her I couldn’t see her any longer because she was trying to force me to go against my conscience. I knew what I had to do to get better. What I wanted was to find a doctor and therapist who would support my desire to be healthy again.
I changed doctors and therapists. I wanted to find someone that believed I could get better and who would help me know what I had to do to get better. I finally found a doctor that said, "I don’t know" when I asked him if I could get better. For the first time, someone didn’t tell me "no" or that "people with mental illness did not get better." He gave me hope. For the first time, I had a glimmer of hope! He told me follow up and records were not maintained on people who stopped seeing their doctors. He said there was no way of knowing whether people stopped seeing their doctors because they got better or because they were still sick and just stopped seeing them.
I was mentally ill for eight years. Through those eight years, I developed a burning desire to get well. My sister had given me a book called "Think and Grow Rich." She told me if I followed the principles in the book that I would get better. No one had told me that before and it stirred something very curious in me. I read that book and I could not put it down. The theme of the book was "whatever the mind can conceive and believe it could achieve." It really made me think. I could identify with the stories of people in the book. I not only began to think about the principles, but I began to act on them. Things began to happen for me. I continued to be mentally ill; I continued to break down; but there were long stretches in between the breaks and they didn’t last as long as the ones before. I was beginning to get healthier as my thinking became healthier. Using the principles, I began to believe in myself. I accepted myself just the way I was. I wrote things down on paper about myself; things that I needed to change and things I couldn’t change. I started thinking about the things I wanted to do with my life when I got better. The more I learned to think, the more I learned how to get better. I learned how to forgive the hurts of the past and to let them go. I learned to plan for the future, but to live just one day at a time. I learned that if I just changed one small thing about myself today, that I would be building a healthier tomorrow for myself and my children. There were many things I had to change about myself so that I could be free of mental illness. It was not an easy thing to do. It was a lot of hard work. There were many, many disappointments and setbacks. The most important thing was not to give up and to challenge my thinking to believe that because I am, then I can, and I will achieve mental health. I stopped blaming and I took responsibility.
I really needed the support of a lot of people, too, in order to make it. I surrounded myself with people who believed I could do it, even though they didn’t know of anyone who had. They were possibility thinkers; just because something had not been done did not mean that it couldn’t be done. Every time I would say, "But, I can’t do that because I’m mentally ill," my sister would say, "Can’t never could. And if you say you can’t do something, then you could never do something. You have to at least try it." I went out and I found jobs and I worked. My employers and fellow employees knew I was mentally ill, but they supported me in my desire to work and they encouraged me to keep on trying. When I broke down, they were there for me. I felt humiliated and embarrassed after a breakdown, but they never reminded me of the embarrassing things I did. They only told me how happy they were that I survived and that I was getting stronger and better every day.
It took me eight years to learn all the things I needed to learn in order to regain my mental health. It wasn’t just changing my eating habits, or taking vitamins that did it. It was a combination of many things that I had to learn to change me so that I could be healthy. It was being able to live in the community, to be able to work, to be accepted by myself and others, it was taking responsibility for myself, it was learning how my mental illness was hurting the people that loved me, it was a willingness to change myself to become all that I wanted to be. It was accepting the illness, but working toward health. I have now been free of mental illness, drug  therapy, and psychotherapy for eight years. I want to share this with others: patients, families, professionals, communities, corporations, and religious organizations. Mental health can be a reality for even the most seriously ill people. People need the hope that others have done it and how they did it.
As I stated when I was in the mental hospital, I made up my mind that I would get better and I would help others know they could too. Currently, I live in the Chicago area. I am developing a speaking business to promote mental health and to educate and train professionals, patients, families, communities, corporations, and religious organizations. My workshops give hope and encouragement to all. (NOTE:  At the time this was printed, I lived in Chicago.)

Faith and Recovery

We have all heard the phrase “you have to have faith”. When I heard that, I didn’t understand what it meant or how it applied to my desire to recover from a mental illness. Thus, began my search to understand “faith”.
FAITH AND RECOVERY What does faith have to do with recovery? Webster’s dictionary defines faith as “unquestioning belief; complete trust or confidence; loyalty.”
Further, I found a definition of faith in scripture in Hebrews 11: 1 as follows: “NOW FAITH IS THE ASSURANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR, THE CONVICTION OF THINGS NOT SEEN.”
This last definition is the one that is of particular interest. To begin the process of recovery — while we are ill — we must start to develop this kind of faith or belief, and that is a belief that we can recover. Recovery is not possible for anyone without first faith [belief] that recovery is possible. To even begin to recover, we must start “believing” that it is possible. The faith [belief] [in recovery] is the assurance of the thing [recovery] hoped for, the conviction of things [recovery] not seen.
In other words, we have to believe in recovery before we ever even see the results of recovery. The old cliche “seeing is believing,” in this case must be turned around to “believing is seeing.” We must believe in the thing hoped for first before we ever experience seeing the thing hoped for.
How do we develop faith or belief? Faith is achieved through repeating affirmations. The process of repeating affirmations to oneself is the principle of auto-suggestion. Through the repeated use of this principle, we will convince our subconscious mind that we believe we will experience the results of the affirmations [beliefs].
FAITH is a state of mind which we develop at WILL through the application of affirmations using the principle of auto-suggestion. The only way anyone can develop faith at will is through repeating affirmations.
We all have faith — negative or positive. Every day we act on or exercise our faith or beliefs — negative or positive. Our behaviors, illnesses, poverty, prosperity, relationships, feelings, self-image, etc. are all a direct result of our faith or beliefs, whether they are conscious or subliminal.
To illustrate, we have all at one time or another said to ourselves, “I feel rotten. I just can’t get myself going.” Or, “I’m really afraid if I go to work I will make a mistake and get fired.” Because we have repeatedly affirmed [told] ourselves that we feel rotten and can’t get going, our behavior is influenced and we may choose to lie in bed all day. Or when we tell ourselves repeatedly that we are afraid to go to work because if we make a mistake we will get fired, we tend to choose not to go out and look for work.
Consequently, if we tell ourselves we feel rotten and just can’t get going, but get out of bed and go shopping or to work, we may find ourselves dragging and complaining to everyone around us how rotten we feel. We may go out and find a job in spite of telling ourselves we are afraid to work because if we make a mistake we will be fired. More than likely, we will have feelings and thoughts of fear, experience anxiety and confusion and, as a result, we may make mistakes which further reinforce our negative belief. Quite frankly, we may even lose our jobs because our faith [belief] can will it to happen.
These examples illustrate “negative faith,” disbelief, doubt, faithlessness, and denial in the good things in life that we are all entitled to. On the other hand, when we take the time to discover our negative faith or beliefs and develop opposite, positive beliefs by repeating positive affirmations, we can change how we think, how we feel, how we eat, our self-image, self-esteem, or anything we choose to change about ourselves.
If you tend to say, “I feel rotten,” try saying repeatedly, I feel terrific and happy” and learn to ignore the rotten feelings that you have as a result of telling yourself “I feel rotten,” and in time you will notice that you do feel terrific and happy.
Consequently, our belief or disbelief in recovery does affect our mental health. If we do not believe we can achieve recovery, nothing that any doctor or treatment does will have any real, heating effect.  If we choose to disbelieve that recovery is possible all the medications, therapy, or assistance won’t do any good because our belief system will prevent us from responding positively to treatment.
When I was diagnosed with a mental illness I was told that I would be mentally ill the rest of my life and would have to take medication; that I would be in and out of mental hospitals; and that I had an incurable disease caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. If I had repeated this to myself, it would have become a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” as we always live up to our affirmations or faith [beliefs]. Instead, I set out on a course to discover how to heal and recover. This action brought about my recovery from mental illness.
As you continue to meet or read about your peers who have recovered and as you take time to develop skills and techniques used by your recovered peers, you too can live up to a new self-fulfilling prophecy of recovery.
Let’s affirm together repeatedly “I am recovering. I believe that what my peers have achieved, gives me the hope that I can too. Today I choose to recover.” ©

A Holistic View of Mental Health

There has been a lot written about a holistic connection to physical health. Written material on the holistic connection between mental illness and mental health is not readily available. However, holistic information applies and includes a view of mental illness and mental health.

"Holistic" means body, mind and spirit connections. Traditional mental health services do not consider this view. Historically, they do not consider cure or recovery either. Nevertheless, a holistic view is important as an alternative because it contributes to a person’s healing.

This view blends eastern and western philosophies to help us understand mental illness and mental health. Western philosophy’s belief, based on objective knowledge, is that genetics, biology, and/or environment cause mental illness, and that mental illness is incurable. However, eastern philosophy, based on subjective experience, regards mind, body and spirit connections not as separate but parts of the whole. A holistic view recognizes that healing is possible.

David McMillin, a mental health professional in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has studied this view and applies it in his work. David states, "Spirit is the life (life force), mind is the builder, and the physical is the result." He says the individual consists of mind, body and spirit.

Mr. McMillin further states, "The psyche or soul connects at definite anatomical centers in the physical body. For example, mind connects the physical body through the nervous system. The spiritual connections in the physical body are primarily through the glandular system, particularly the endocrine glands." Mr. McMillin further explains, "Another way of thinking about the soul is that it is the individual aspect of spirit. Conversely, spirit is the universal aspect of soul. Soul (psyche) is the part of us that grows and develops. Spirit is the universal creative life force of the soul’s development."

It is the spiritual force through which we have the ability to work, to affect change, to perform over a period of time and space in a materialistic world. Spirit is the force behind our lives. Spirit is a universal principle of life. Spirit is dynamic energy — the energy we bring to our lives that gives them a spark.

By blending eastern/western philosophies, we understand that illness happens when these holistic connections become disrupted through heredity or genetics, injury or trauma, meditation practices, deep study of religious beliefs or scripture for enlightenment, not using your energy constructively, environment, or the psyche (soul) of one person influencing the psyche (soul) of another. Disorder or illness occurs when the holistic connections are out of balance. Imbalances are responsible for physical and psychological illnesses. In the holistic view, mental illness has its origin when the spiritual and/or physical become imbalanced. However, order is inherent in disorder, making a return to health possible.

Chaplain Anton T. Boison, in his book The Exploration of the Inner World (1936), believed that "many problems of insanity are religious (spiritual) rather than medical problems, and that they cannot be successfully treated until they are so recognized. Mental disorders are not evils but problem solving experiences." He sees mental illness as an individual’s unhappy solution to life’s problems. (Note, Chaplain Boison himself was diagnosed with mental illness.)

Chaplain Boison also said that "our life situations present efforts at growth that create conflicts while striving to achieve better than where we are. A serious sense of inner disharmony and isolation from other people is the catalyst to our unhappy solutions. The experience for many is a make or break one." Furthermore, Mr. McMillin emphasizes that "sometimes the physical body (especially the nervous and glandular systems) are not able to handle the stress of life’s challenges and problems. Mental illness is one of the possible outcomes when the mental and spiritual connections in the body become overwhelmed by life’s distressing experiences."

In a physical sense, food provides the nutrients used for energy. The endocrine system utilizes chemical messengers to coordinate various activities of the body parts. There is a certain amount of overlap with the nervous system, which utilizes neurotransmitter substances creating excitability or inhibition causing neurons to either fire or not. Together these provide the necessary chemicals that energize our spiritual lives. Spirit is energy fueled by the endocrine system. It is the spiritual force by which we live.

Mind can be a destroyer as well as a builder. The operations of the mind influenced by information received through the nervous system by way of the senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell — forms thoughts interpreted into beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. These can be both negative and positive based on experience. They have a profound effect on us holistically, whether they are conscious or not. Together they can make us feel happy or sad, angry or peaceful, sick or healthy. Mental and physical health manifests by thinking, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes. Dr. Kidd of the Genetics Department at Yale University agrees that the mind is extraordinary. He says research in genetics has proven that "the brain is phenomenal and can be retrained to overcome genetic defects."

Illness means mind, body, and spirit function without the awareness of the other. For optimum health in a holistic view the mind, body, and spirit function harmoniously through self-knowledge brought into balance by the will. A holistic view means the individual begins the process of self-knowledge, and by the will brings these connections into balance to achieve mental and physical health. The two cannot be separated.

When people make holistic connections, achieving mental health goes beyond recovery or cure; it begins in the inner self and heals. This healing process transforms individuals and their lives as they become their new, healthy selves — physically, mentally, and spiritually. Going through the experiences and making the connections change lives for the better if it happens under the right circumstances. The physical result is that as people mature into responsible living brought into balance by the will, they grow into their true holistic selves.© (1995)