I’ve been in the mental health field as a consumer of services since I was nine years old. Twenty years have passed and I see more and more changes every day. Recovery this and recovery that. What the heck do these people mean? Recovering from what? I still need to take my meds. I still cry and get depressed. I still know I am mentally ill. But without knowledge of recovery and what it is, how am I ever going to get there?
Northern Lakes CMH has done a tremendous job with creating and sustaining recovery groups and projects throughout each of its six counties. Two years ago, we created the To See What I See: The Stigma of Mental Illness video documentary with the help of Dr. Mary Pierce from Northwestern Michigan College and Jeff Morgan of Prometheus Motion Pictures. On the inside cover it reads:
“One in five Americans have a diagnosable mental illness. The lucky ones will have supportive family and friends as well as the financial resources to get the help that they need. Unfortunately, many will not seek treatment partly because of the stigma of having a mental illness, or they may get help but face disrespect and discrimination at home, work or in the community. We look forward to the day when we will see communities of informed, caring people living and working together. With your help, that day will come soon.”
Although resources such as this documentary are available to help inform the community of what a mental illness is, when I went to our local library not long ago and checked their database for Mental Illness, the search came back with nothing. Then I checked for Mental Health…nothing again. Mental Disorders, Mental Health Recovery, Mental Health, ANYTHING…nothing was there.
I know we live in small communities, but this bothered me more than a little bit because how can anyone have any concept of what we [Northern Lakes] stand for if that information isn’t available except where we [Northern Lakes] put it?
I thought about the documentary I mentioned above and went back to my office and got an extra copy I had. I called the library and asked for their head librarian. She made an appointment with me so that I could take in a few samples of our photobiographies and the copy of the documentary for her to review. I collected as much information as I could, then headed out a few days later for that scheduled appointment.
When I arrived, one of the library staff told the head librarian that I was there to meet with her for our appointment regarding mental health and the recovery efforts we were undergoing at Northern Lakes. The librarian looked at me, hands full of photobiographies and resources, and said she didn’t have time to meet with me today – even though we had a scheduled appointment. I followed her into her office and began talking. I told her that because she was the best way to get ANY information out to the small community we lived in that she should hear what I had to say. She again told me that she didn’t have time and started walking away from me in a different direction out of her office. I again followed her. I started talking about the documentary (of which I had brought a copy for her to view and keep to add to their resources) and how it impacted my life not only as a mental health consumer but as a staff member at Northern Lakes as well. I continued on to tell her it made me think a lot about how we strive at Northern Lakes to be integrated into, and not segregated from, the community. I told her that by walking away from learning about mental health recovery, she was not being integrating at all but segregating. She stopped, turned around, then said, “Please come back to my office.” I followed her and began telling her about my story as a mental health consumer. I explained the wonderful photobiographies that the consumers had created. I even went so far as to show her on her computer my own personal recovery journey on this Virtual Recovery Center blog.
She sat quietly and read the entire thing before she spoke again. The next words out of her mouth were “I’m sorry.” I told her that she had no reason to be sorry because I personally knew what recovery meant to me as well as the meaning of mental health. However, she should be sorry for the folks who come into her library looking for help and answers about how to get services but can find nothing in their system. She agreed, took the documentary and viewed it with tears streaming down her face. I also handed her a copy of the movie “Canvas” starring Joe Pantoliano, Marcia Gay Harden and Devon Gearhart and asked her to view that as well and decide if that was a good enough start to a mental health resource area. She said she’d view it then call me.
Only ONE day went by before I received a phone call from the librarian. She called to tell me that both the documentary and the movie “Canvas” were in their database now and that she would be doing some research on how to make information about mental health diagnoses as well as other mental health related topics more available at her library.
Two weeks passed and I went back into that same library knowing that the head librarian was not there. I went on one of their computers and looked up Mental Health Recovery and there were 115 hits! Research papers, statistics, coping skills, diagnosis information, you name it. They had either purchased a book or copied a link of how to find more information on the topic.
I just want everyone to be aware that not all people in our communities have knowledge about what mental illnesses are. Here was a very knowledgeable person with a degree in research as a librarian who didn’t know squat about what being diagnosed meant. I appreciate that she took the time to listen, learn, and HELP. I’m on a mission to this day to go to all six of our counties’ libraries to see if they have information available to those who might be too scared to ask but want to try to learn through self-help material about why they are so depressed and/or upset.
My BIGGEST hope, though, is that if you’re reading this, you’ll continue on your path of recovery and educate someone who doesn’t know about mental health related issues. Tell them how far you’ve come. Ask them for their opinions and advice. Because like the Northern Lakes vision included on the inside cover of the documentary says: We look forward to the day when we will see “COMMUNITIES of INFORMED, CARING people LIVING and WORKING TOGETHER.” And of course, “With YOUR help, that day will come SOON!” Good luck and happy educating.