My Journey to Acceptance

Posted by Jeff Fink on July 17, 2017

While I always knew something was different about me, I never wanted to accept it.  I hung out with my more “functioning” peers even while I experienced profound social anxiety, fear, and loneliness.  I pretended that everything was okay, and I provided comic relief for many, despite feeling empty inside.  This was my approach after I was diagnosed with severe depression during freshman year of college and for the roughly 15 years that followed.  During that time, my life was a nightmare of treatment-resistant depression, crippling anxiety, endless insomnia, and existence vs. living.

On some level, I knew things would probably improve if I gave up alcohol, adopted a healthier lifestyle, consumed a more balanced diet, exercised, regulated my sleep, and took my medicine.  That was all too overwhelming for me. I didn’t want to accept that I could not do what most of my peers could do; I didn’t acknowledge that they didn’t face the same medical challenges. I wanted my challenges to go away, not accepting the reality that these challenges would be part of my daily life.  They did not disappear, as evidenced by many years of being bedridden and isolated from the world.  Some ask, “What was your rock bottom?”  I had more rock bottoms than I can count and frequent thoughts of suicide.

As I started to pull out of another severe episode, I began to accept that life would be quite different for me than I had assumed.  I understood that I would need to make real and lasting changes to have any meaningful joy and stability.  I was then over 30 years old but, as the saying goes, I knew that it was “better late than never.”

I started to make gradual changes; I eliminated alcohol, and watched my diet, including reducing dairy and gluten. I consumed mostly whole fruits and vegetables, and I drank a lot of water.  I exercised daily, and still do. But I was not perfect.

I used to think that everyone else had a story, and that I would never have one worth sharing. Even while I was taking better care of myself, I was very reluctant to share my struggles with others, including my former good friends.  This reluctance contributed to my continuing feelings of isolation.

Over time, I began to accept that things were good enough and didn’t have to be perfect.  I began to accept that others had limitations far worse than my own, and I learned how important it was for me to get “outside of myself”.

A dramatic change for me began with my getting my beautiful golden retriever, Earl, who is now approaching his fifth birthday.   Earl opened the world up to me.  I became comfortable conversing with almost anyone we passed. It became increasingly important for me to “take care of Earl” which enabled me to focus much less on myself.   Over the last five years, we have essentially taken care of each other.

My life is now meaningful and I am living it with a purpose I never imagined possible. I started Go Fetch Wellness, an organization dedicated to helping people with mental health and addiction challenges connect to dogs as part of their whole-person approach to wellness.

Go Fetch advocates for others that have yet to find their voice and works to end stigma with the hope that they will not have to suffer alone and in silence.

We hope others will help us spread the word about the healing capabilities of the human-animal bond.  We are advocates (for professionals and non-professionals, alike) to consider dogs (or other animals) in their planning for a complete and coordinated mental wellness and/or addiction recovery plan. Most importantly, we hope that each of you will let family members, friends and others who are suffering know that you are there for them so that, hopefully, they will know that they are not alone in their struggles.

For more information, please visit our website:


On a Saturday morning Neal, my 18-year-old son, was eating his breakfast. It was nearly noon, and since I was the person leading his homeschooling, I felt pressure to kickstart his day with some history. Our kitchen is also a family room, and I was fiddling around with the TV, waiting for him to be done.


For Neal, sleep is elusive. He is still adjusting to his meds for BiPolar/Mood Disorder. I never wake him up in the mornings; I want him to wake up naturally, easily since his sleep is often disrupted.


The pressure inside my head was mounting. There was a lot I wanted to get done. We were trying to catch up on 15 years of schooling. That was because Neal had a breakthrough 1 year and 5 months ago – a blockbuster, life-changing breakthrough.


Neal was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months. He had spent his entire life in silence until the age of 17. His teachers tried hard to get him to speak. He could make sounds, repeat words and, with help, name things held up in front of him. Since he was non-verbal, everyone made the assumption that he was also cognitively challenged. So his curriculum mainly consisted of tasks like sorting socks, folding laundry, washing dishes – life skills that he still works on today.


His breakthrough led to the discovery that Neal had learnt to spell and could read, and could keep up with all of us. He had taught himself, locked in his silent world by listening to everyone around him and watching us teach his younger sister. We had stopped teaching him academics since his preschool days – his body was never able to perform tasks a typical preschooler could. Then, 15 months ago, a very special teacher named Sue came into our lives and tried using the revolutionary Rapid Prompting Method. With this, Neal began to spell out words on an alphabet board. He was able, at last, to have his voice heard.


Now, instead of having somebody decide what he ate, when he took a shower, whom he spent time with, Neal could finally decide all those things for himself. We discovered that there was a funny, wry and wise person living within the sweet, gentle, loving son we had always known, albeit non-verbally. For the first three months, I didn’t sleep much, filled with a sense of my own failure. How could I, his mother, not have known this fundamental truth about him? How could I have had him spending all his time repeatedly coloring circles and stacking blocks when all the while, I now realize, he yearned so much to be seen for who he was. He must have felt all those years that there was no chance of discovery, and that perhaps he would die silent and unknown. Despite this, his attitude before and after the breakthrough has always been full of grace. When he does express himself, he talks of how lucky he feels to have a loving family, how happy he is to be able to communicate, and how much he wants to learn. He loves math and history.


After this wonderful discovery, we didn’t quite ride off into the sunset of libraries and college classrooms. As much as he loves to learn, Neal still has autism. His special school is still right for him. His mind can’t control his body and he still needs to learn physical tasks over and over again, until muscle memory can support him. Additionally, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a few years ago and various moods frequently roil through him. Often he is laid low in depression, or frozen in place by anxiety, or frantic with manic episodes. The moments when he can actually accomplish the learning he wants to are few. We work to cram as much as we can into the good days. Because that’s what he wants.
On that Saturday morning, I found a history program on PBS for him to listen to while he ate. The title of the program was Secrets of the Third Reich – Hitler’s Madness. I thought this might interest Neal as he is fascinated by World War II. “Was Hitler Bipolar?” began the PBS documentary. Along with it came black and white images, scary music. The film editors had gone to work making BiPolar illness seem bleak and horror filled. I froze, wondering how Neal would respond to this portrayal of his disorder. Then he reached out, put the board in my hand and spelled out. “Mom, you better order that Hitler costume for my Halloween.”

acceptance-lectureAcceptance is a daily choice.

For the past 17 years, I have been taking more than 30 combinations of brands, dosages and classes of psychotropic medications.  From weight gain to cognitive difficulties to paralyzing bouts of anxiety, medication has created physical, mental and emotional trauma for me.  However, it has also fostered unique opportunities by decreasing my mood fluctuation and contributing to an overall sense of well-being.  Medication has served as an anchor and an obstacle, both grounding and disturbing.

Each day I take my medication, I make the choice of acceptance.

Each day I take my medication, I make the choice of acceptance.  It reminds me about my condition and the need to manage it.  At times, the reminder fades into the background; however, when I miss a few dosages, and I am plagued by anxiety as a result, the reminder becomes loud and inescapable.

Medication is built into my daily routine, and currently, the side effects are minimal.  However, during the years of unanticipated reactions, the acceptance of my condition helped me to see things through.

I can only imagine some of the harsh effects of medications or regimens I refused, and these decisions do not reflect a lack of acceptance. However, using a medication or following a regimen does represent a choice of acceptance and humility, and one must often affirm both.

Some regimens or routines in our lives are needed to mitigate, manage or thrive with a medical illness, mental or physical, and they serve as reminders of our condition.  Each time, we choose to follow a doctor’s orders, we choose to accept that condition.  And that is one of the most important and powerful choices we can make on a daily basis.

What ways do you affirm your acceptance?


People frequently ask me, “How did you accept your mental illness?  This essential question strikes at the heart of healing because “in order to heal, you must first recognize healing is necessary.” I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when I accepted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but it came very early in my journey.

The first and only time I was hospitalized in the spring of 2000, I experienced a three-week manic episode. It culminated when my parents brought me to a psychiatric hospital in Queens, NY.  During my two-week stay, I met a number of people on the ward who left a lasting impression.

… in order to heal, you must first recognize healing is necessary.

My psychiatric nurse, a large, six-foot-five Trinidadian man, exuded a pleasant, approachable demeanor and a lot of patience.  Although I immediately began medication once on the ward, for three or four days, my mind was still racing.  I would share my brilliant insights with “Derrick” several times a day.

One day, my voice light with excitement, I asked him, “How are doctors and patients like patients and doctors?”  “How Hakeem?” he replied.  Thrilled by my own ingenuity, I exclaimed, “Doctors have patience, and patients must have patience waiting for doctors!” I waited with joyous anticipation for his laughter, adulation and acknowledgement of my witty  statement. At the time, his lack of response did not penetrate my self-perceived wisdom.

A day or two later, before I could launch into another barrage of “profound insights,” Derrick said, “Hakeem, stop. I know your achievements as the first African-American valedictorian at your high school and a student at Harvard. You can find fulfillment in a long life with a bright future ahead of you. Hakeem, I do not ever want to see you back here again. People come in and out of this ward like a revolving door, and I do not want that for you.”

I do not remember my exact response, but his statement stuck with me.  I now think of him as one of my guardian angels.  In reflection, I believe I understood his stern warning to “not come back” as a protective affirmation of my power to thrive in that “bright future.”

However, it also contributed to my sense of internal failure, random sadness and social anxiety. Something was amiss, and his statement shone a light on my present condition, even while it made me realize, “Where I was, was not who I was.”

Derrick’s short and piercing statement became a potent and lasting guidepost on the complex nature of acceptance.  This brief encounter helped me to embrace my condition.

In the following posts, I will explore the power of platforms to foster acceptance.  But acceptance means different things to different people. What is your story? What articles, books or research helped you?  Post a comment below, contribute to our Facebook Page and “like us,” or share a short video. If you want to share your experience in more detail, please email to submit a blog post.

On April 16, 2007, I lay on the floor as a gunman tried to enter my classroom at Virginia Tech.  In 2015, I sought counseling for an eating disorder.  One of the first things I said to my counselor was, “This is not related to the shooting.  I want to own this eating disorder, and I want to fix it.”  She likely thought to herself, All right honey, we’ll get there. Only a couple of months later, I found myself sobbing in her office.  I was allowing years of bottled-up fear, loneliness, guilt, and anxiety to be released. I had finally begun the process of dealing with the Virginia Tech tragedy.

After the shooting, I internally struggled to return to a normal life.

So what did I do? I faked a normal life. I got a job working for the federal government, got a master’s degree, ran a marathon, got engaged, got married, ran more marathons, got a second master’s degree, bought a house…. the list goes on.  I came across as happy and successful to family, friends, and social media; I actually believed I was.

For eight years, I couldn’t make any sense of my feelings. So I didn’t try. I just kept moving and I clung to distractions. Fortunately, counseling has helped me make sense of that confused, scrambled mess.

There was a mismatch between how I was feeling inside (anxious, vulnerable, scared, and lonely) and about people’s comments about how well I was dealing with the shooting. I didn’t want to disappoint people, and I didn’t connect with what they were saying. And so that disconnect, and my own denial, became routine for me.

I needed help but I didn’t realize it. I built walls because I didn’t want to feel the sadness. I didn’t realize that when you don’t acknowledge the sadness, you also aren’t allowing in joy and love. You can’t pick and choose which feelings you allow inside.

I needed someone to help me learn to accept my feelings. I needed someone to re-teach me how to deal with them.  I needed someone to help me to stop comparing my feelings to others’. I needed someone to help me understand that my feelings were a way for my body to communicate with my mind. But what good is someone’s help if I’m not listening?

What made me go seek counseling? First, I wanted something more than I wanted my eating disorder. I wanted to start a family.  I wasn’t treating my body in a healthy way, so I couldn’t get pregnant.  I was causing my own fertility issues, and I was the only one who could fix it. Second, I had to stop caring what other people thought. This is so much easier said than done. Today, the only judgment I care about is from the Big Man upstairs.

Admitting that you have a mental illness or addiction is difficult. But counseling is so, so helpful, and your mental health is so, so important!

About Lisa: Lisa Hamp is a survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting. Lisa suffered from untreated PTSD and an eating disorder for many years after the incident.  Today, she is an advocate for school safety and mental health services.  She speaks to law enforcement, first responders, school counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals sharing her experience. Learn more about Lisa at



I truly appreciate the power of platforms. The power of creating a space to say, “This is who I am; here’s what I have been through; I have made it through, and I want you to know you can, too.”  In some ways, that platform was provided to me, but in many ways, I was forced to create it myself. Either way, the most critical moment came when I decided to use it.

We are fostering the limitless opportunities from accepting yourself and discarding the paralyzing shame of ignorant and accusatory voices; when you discover the benefits of community and adopt love instead of loneliness.

Now, through Live Breathe, LLC and my non-profit, I Am Acceptance, Inc,, we create platforms to ensure mutual well-being by promoting community, wellness, acceptance and joy.  Our platforms include the I Am Acceptance College Tour, the Student Ambassadors Program, and the Breaking Through Stigma Curriculum as well as related activities designed to empower and enlighten people about the nature of mental wellness.

Resources such as books, blog posts and social media, and the platforms they provide, help us to create a space for voices to be heard and experiences shared. It is okay to struggle with mental illness: there is no shame, and there is hope in our common humanity.

We are fostering the limitless opportunities from accepting yourself and discarding the paralyzing shame of ignorant and accusatory voices; when you discover the benefits of community and adopt love instead of loneliness. When you embrace wellness and joy, you will find the road to lead a whole, healthy and satisfying life.

The battle for wellness is an ongoing process as we all seek to become true to ourselves through a lifetime of revelations and acquired wisdom, I have not reached my ultimate destination yet, but we all struggle as we seek the truth and fight to attain wisdom.  However, if we use platforms to face our pain, ask for help and embrace ways to live in wellness, we can find purpose, community, wellness, acceptance and joy.

What does it mean to become a “mental health advocate?” The words “mental health” and “advocacy” likely conjure up specific images and ideas for you, but I believe that there a few cornerstones that unite all mental health advocates, and several actionable steps that budding advocates can take.

As mental health advocates, we must not operate in a silo but rather find ways to integrate this cause into ongoing social movements

My own journey into mental health advocacy began about five years ago. The seeds were first planted in Spring 2012 while I was training to be an Undergraduate Peer Counselor at my college. As part of this training experience, we coordinated and participated in campus outreach and education. Two key aspects of this outreach were promoting mental wellness among college students and helping to destigmatize mental health concerns. By learning the facts about mental health among college students and recognizing the need for more mental health awareness on campus, we were able to build off of prior Peer Counselors’ efforts to promote these causes, and I helped to eventually co-found a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Campus club with other Peer Counselors at my college.

In many ways, my initiation into mental health advocacy was the result of serendipity: I was simply majoring in psychology at the time, interested in pursuing a career within this field, and thankfully surrounded by like-minded people. While I wasn’t actively searching for an advocacy role, I naturally gravitated toward that role when the opportunity came up, and it felt like a good fit.

My subsequent connections to NAMI’s local, state and national levels strengthened this role and further connected me to other advocates, including Hakeem and his work. It was great to be surrounded by so many passionate people and to learn from leaders in the field. Since this introduction, I have been able to advocate for mental health through public speaking, conversations with peers, research, clinical work and volunteering with local organizations. I believe my initial introduction into advocacy also fostered the motivation for me to eventually pursue doctoral studies in clinical psychology and research on stigma, which has provided me with a platform to continue advocating.

Now that I reflect on both my experience as a mental health advocate and the current political climate we’re in (e.g., funding cuts, keeping mental health on the agenda), I think about the cornerstones of mental health advocacy and the advice that I would give to someone who is interested in promoting mental health and pursuing advocacy:

  • Connect it to your values: Be explicit with yourself about your interests in advocacy. You’re probably at this blog because you have a longstanding interest in mental health already. What draws you to this type of advocacy? Is it a personal experience? Know a friend or family member who has gone through a mental health struggle? Is it a general sense of social justice or related to your faith/spirituality? For me, I can identify with adolescents and young adults who are forming their identities and may find transitions to new schools difficult. I understand what it is like to feel vulnerable, and I have several friends and family members who have been open about their mental health, too. Mental health advocacy connects to my broader passions and values of social justice, public mental health education and facilitating a high level of care for the patients I work with. Connecting advocacy to your personal values makes the work feel natural and worthwhile. This is a cornerstone for any advocate.
  • Volunteer and get connected: Mental health advocacy is vast. Connecting to your values can provide initial direction for where to start. Organizations range from general advocacy (like NAMI) to more specific advocacy (like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance [DBSA]). Additionally, advocates come in all shapes and sizes. If you have the time, volunteer it (programming, suicide hotline, eating disorder hotline, etc.). If you have the money, donate and become a member. If not, help raise money for a cause such as NAMIWalks. Follow mental health leaders and politicians on social media and keep abreast of new research and public policy changes. Listen to persons with lived experience and get to know their perspectives; attend public talks and anti-stigma programming by these individuals. Volunteering and getting connected will give you a good sense of the mental health community and current objectives.
  • Know the research and engage: As an advocate, you will be part of many mental health conversations – perhaps with family, friends, colleagues, professionals and even policymakers. Become knowledgeable about some of the basic research in this area. Some initial areas I would suggest are: when the onset of most mental health conditions is (A: adolescence – young adulthood), the prevalence of mental health conditions (A: about 1 in 5 adults in the US any given year), the rate of help-seeking behaviors (A: only about 20-40%), the human and financial cost of not treating mental illness (A: incalculable, and millions to billions), evidence-based anti-stigma practices (A: contact and education), and common mental health stereotypes (e.g., the relationship between mental illness and violence). It also doesn’t hurt to be aware of local mental health resources and how to connect someone to treatment. Having a base knowledge of mental health will help you better engage with the public, other advocates and policymakers (including writing letters and calling your elected representatives).
  • Collaborate and integrate: As mental health advocates, we must not operate in a silo but rather find ways to integrate this cause into ongoing social movements (but listen, too… integrate when appropriate and relevant, so as not to override an organization’s mission). Everyone has mental health. However, not everyone has the same access to mental health care, or the same risk factors that may impact one’s mental health. When I helped run NAMI on Campus, we collaborated with juvenile justice initiatives (e.g., “raise the age”), researchers on health disparities and minority access to healthcare, a DREAMer student organization, and a human rights program. Mental health is intertwined within many movements and causes, and there are generally opportunities to start a conversation about it. Movements against racism, for example, are intrinsically related to mental health, since racial discrimination can affect mental health and advocates can face burnout (check this article out for more on this). 

Last but not least, take care of yourself. Self-care and your own mental wellness are vital to being the best advocate you can be. Stay close to your mental health community and use your supports.


My name is Dr. Carol Ray and I enjoy reading, writing, going out to eat and going to the movies. I have bipolar disorder.

In the summer of 2011, I was working at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. One night I experienced a mental crisis due to my not having access to my medicine. A few weeks earlier, I had renewed my insurance. Yet, when I tried to fill my prescription, the Pharmacist said that she could not refill it because there was something wrong with the membership portion of my insurance. This occurred on a weekend; therefore, I had to wait until the following Monday before I could call the insurance company. As a result, about two to three days later, I experienced severe depression and mania in one night. I also experienced hallucinations and delusions. I was in a serious mental crisis.

When an individual with a mental illness, or other serious illness, is unable to have access to medication, this situation can be critical, or even life threatening.

The hotel staff had called 911 for an ambulance, but the police arrived instead. After the officers arrived, I recall sitting on a bench outside the hotel. Police officers were walking in and out of the lobby.

After a while I saw a police woman, motioning with her hand to me and smiling. She said, “Come on.” I felt safe until I was handcuffed. I was not gently placed in the police car. I was thrown into it and taken to jail. I had never been arrested before. Never!

While in jail, I had recurring hallucinations. I was placed on suicide watch, and in time, I felt worse.  I was not given medication; therefore, I went downhill fast. I remained in jail for six days. After that, I was transported via police car  to a state hospital. By that time, I was unable to walk, talk or feed myself.

It took six weeks to recover. Then I was transported back to jail to spend one night (a policy) before my court hearing. I should have been immediately released into the custody of my parents before appearing in court. At the jail, while I (and another inmate) were sitting in the waiting area, handcuffed to our chairs, an officer who was carrying our medicines to a locker, said, “Wow, this is a drugstore!” He may have been kidding, but this was no laughing matter. No one should joke like this, especially a police officer whose job is to be protector of the public. He was so insensitive to our feelings.

While in jail this second time, I was not given my medicine on time. I worried that I might have a relapse and have to go back to the hospital. I told the officer on duty, a few times,  that I needed to take my medicine. She always answered, “The nurse is not on the floor yet.” Inmates with a mental illness, should always be given their medications on time; if necessary, the jail needs to hire more medical personnel to handle this problem.

During this experience, many of the officers saw me when I was experiencing my health crisis.  When I returned, fully recovered, each one of them said to me, “You look good!” I heard one officer say, after leaving my cell, “Did you see her, she looks good!” It encouraged me to hear this. Another police woman, who knocked on my cell the next day, asked me, “Carol, are you ready to go to court?”  I had been nodding; when I awoke, I told her yes. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t I give you some time to get ready.” She obviously had excellent sensitivity training! It showed she cared. When it was time for me to leave for court, another police woman came to my cell to handcuff and shackle me. She asked, “How are you?” I replied “I am fine.” She told me I looked good and I thanked her. The moment was bittersweet; her statement gave me hope in a difficult situation.

My experience was horrible to endure. It was only the grace of God that brought me through this ordeal. Thankfully, I now have been stable for six years.

Having a strong support system has helped me tremendously in the following ways:

(1) I have received full support from my parents; (2) After recovery I attended an outpatient behavioral health agency. (3) I attended meetings with other mental health clients. I learned about ways to successfully live with my mental illness, and we shared our experiences with our illnesses. (4) I delved into my writing. As a result, I recently had a book published that will soon be available to the public. It is entitled, “Ph.D.’s Have Bipolar Too: My Story”. (5) I began designing greeting cards that I hope to sell one day. (6) Keeping my appointments with my doctors (both mental health and primary care doctors) has also contributed to my continued good health. (7) Finally, I have developed a closer relationship with God, which has helped me tremendously.

Many people have mental illnesses like mine, and sadly many have gone through the criminal justice system due to a crisis.

The jail and prison systems are the largest mental health institutions.

When individuals are in crisis, too many are being arrested and jailed. This is not the solution. The criminal justice system, as it relates to mental health, is broken. Funding should be provided to study the solutions to fixing this problem.We must make everyone aware about the practices of criminalization of the mentally ill. Training and awareness needs to be adequately funded in order to educate all law enforcement about how to recognize and treat those who are in a mental health crisis and those who are incarcerated that have a mental illness.

Another problem needs to be addressed. Pharmacists follow certain guidelines. When an individual with a mental illness, or other serious illness, is unable to have access to medication, this situation can be critical, or even life threatening. Therefore, policies need to be changed. If there is a glitch with a patient’s insurance, there must be guidelines to help that individual with a serious illness receive medication, even if only enough to help the individual until the insurance agency can handle the matter.

I believe that we go through ordeals in life to help others. In telling my story, I hope to help those who have had a similar experience and to shed light on the need to fix a broken system.

Introduction to Platforms

Posted by Hakeem Rahim on April 7, 2017

In 2012, I left my job as an academic advisor at a college.  As a college administrator for the past five years. I loved working with students and hearing their hopes and dreams.  My favorite question, “What do you want to be?” helped me to live vicariously, sharing their excitement and limitless opportunities.

My deepest pain had become my highest platform to help myself by reaching out and helping others.

Yet I was hiding in my own life.  In 2000, I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Although I had studied psychology at Harvard College and graduated with honors, received dual Masters degrees in psychological counseling from Columbia University, worked as a counselor and now as a college academic advisor for more than five years, I still had not come to terms with my struggle and journey with mental illness.  I did not tell my closest friends or family about my disorder. I felt like a fraud, a hypocrite who talked a good game despite my internal chaos.

In 2012, I joined my local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and was trained to be an In Our Own Voice Speaker. I started sharing my journey with mental illness in hospitals, mental health treatment programs and support groups.  In 2013, I started talking to students about how to fight the stigma of mental illness and get help, and to let them know they are not alone.

My struggle with bipolar disorder left me with deeply painful, mental and physical scars. Yet sharing my most painful moments and life-defining experiences was now helping others

This past January, I felt validated by the path I had chosen when, after a series of school presentations, a student selected me as their African-American hero for black history month.  There I was on the sixth grade hallway social studies bulletin board right next to Jesse Owens, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama.  My deepest pain had become my highest platform to help myself by reaching out and helping others.


In December 2005, I experienced what one would consider to be a turning point in my life. A good friend of mine had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia. In a flash, it seemed as if all hell had broken loose, and we were living in the twilight zone.

At that time, I was pursuing my undergraduate degree in Business with a minor in Psychology. I was already contemplating the idea of going into Psychology as a career choice but was still unsure.

I am happy to be a part of this small army locally and internationally that fights for persons living with mental illness, because living is exactly what is happening.

As fate would have it, Damian’s mental health crisis, when he was both in and out of his lucid moments, was that pivotal moment for me. Damian reached out to me for help and expressed his fears about his diagnosis. When he was experiencing his delusions I was also there listening to him explain why he thought he was the reincarnation of Jesus and that people were coming to “get” him.

I also saw first-hand the level of misinformation and stigma surrounding mental illness as rumors started to swirl among our peer group; “mad”, “crazy”, “psychotic” were the words thrown around. “Maybe he had smoked some bad weed,” some thought.

I know my friends did not say these things with any malicious intent but instead spoke from a place of fear and misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, my dear friend committed suicide on December 1, 2005, and my life has never been the same since. I took it upon myself to pursue graduate studies in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling and have never looked back.

I have become a Mental Health Advocate, and I founded the Jamaica Mental Health Advocacy Network (JaMHAN), a group of young professionals who are passionate about raising awareness regarding mental health issues in order to reduce the surrounding stigma. Through our robust social media advocacy efforts, psycho-educational videos and public education campaign, JaMHAN seeks to inform people that mental illness is wide and varied and is not confined to manifestations that end up in murder or suicide.

In Jamaica, there remains a pervasive view that mental illness is due to demon possession and psychological weakness in persons. Persons living with mental illness are still perceived to be mad or crazy. There are persons with biochemical illnesses such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Depression, persons who struggle with grief such as death of a loved one, persons who endure post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual abuse or high levels of crime and violence in our country.

I am happy to be a part of this small army locally and internationally that fights for persons living with mental illness, because living is exactly what is happening.

Mental illness is not a death sentence and at some point or another we will all struggle with a mental or emotional issue.

I am thankful to be involved in a global movement of acceptance and self-love.