AUTHOR: Kacee Baker
AGENCY: Skills of Central PA
ARTICLE: “Mental Illness is Not a Sign of Weakness”: Skills Staff and Participants Share Messages of Hope During Mental Health Awareness Month
May is recognized nationally as Mental Health Awareness Month, creating an opportunity to bring attention to, and educate millions of people about the impacts of mental illness. Every May, Skills of Central PA recognizes this month by hosting community awareness events throughout the region.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. Skills of Central PA runs a variety of services and programs to support people living with severe, persistent mental health challenges. Skills offers drop-in support centers, mobile and site-based psychiatric rehabilitation programs, and peer support services. All of the programs help people work toward recovery, overcome barriers, and find hope.
Laura Gardner, MS, who oversees Skills’ Mental Health Programs, says that reducing stigma and encouraging people to seek help when they’re struggling is a major goal for Skills. “For people who reach out and get support, recovery is very possible. If there’s one thing I could say to people struggling with their mental health, it’s that people can and do recover from mental health challenges, and they move forward to live happy, healthy lives just like anyone else.”
People supported at Skills’ Centre County mental health programs are helping Skills staff in their goal to reduce stigma by sharing personal recovery stories and hopeful messages with their communities at Skills’ public Mental Health Awareness Nights.
“I want to encourage people who are struggling with mental illness to seek help. It took me years of struggling with my mental illness to reach out and actually ask for help and to acknowledge that I have an illness,” Stacy, from Skills’ Site-Based Psychiatric Rehabilitation program in Philipsburg, says in her recovery story. “But when I did, it changed my life. At Skills, I have found a sense of community. We work through challenges together and support each other during difficult times. We learn, laugh, and grow together. I hope that others can find this as well.”
Deanna, a member at Skills’ Opportunity Centre Clubhouse in State College, says she wants to make sure that anyone struggling with their mental health knows that “there’s always people to help you if you reach out.” In her tenth year as a Clubhouse member, Deanna says, “I have so many friends at Clubhouse, and I feel great about myself because of being a member here.”
“There is stigma,” Kenneth, another Clubhouse member, whose goal is to raise awareness about cerebral palsy and mental illness, says, “But don’t give up. Keep on fighting. Find a way to do things, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do them.”
“We’re all human beings,” Kenneth says at the conclusion of his story. “We are all the same, whether we have a diagnosis or not.”
Caption: Kenneth and Deanna are close friends who have gone through their mental health recovery journeys together at Skills’ Opportunity Centre Clubhouse.