Stories of Resiliency
Jaleah Winn had her first personal experience with mental health issues in college. She developed severe depression which included constant crying, isolation, feelings of guilt, a deep sense of shame, and profound disappointment in herself.
Looking for help, Jaleah turned to her faith community, learning what depression was and how to manage it. In spite of the support she found there, Jaleah was unable to care for herself physically and emotionally. She tried to pursue help with the public health care system, but because her mental health issues were not neatly fitted into the criteria of the DMSR, she was denied service several times and didn't receive care until she was involuntarily hospitalized. After several hospitalizations, Jaleah began a comprehensive treatment plan, including support from her faith community, therapy, and medication.
Using her empathetic heart, lived experience, deep faith, and the help of support agencies like PEERS, Jaleah has created and managed her own journey of recovery. She now spends her days helping others overcome their challenges as an employee at the ACBHCS Wellness Recovery, and Resiliency Hub.
Growing up in East Oakland in the 1950s, Will Garrett experienced his first major trauma though segregation and racism. The loss of his mother led to feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, abandonment, and deep depression. Social drug use spiraled into addiction and he found himself incarcerated. The cycle returned after his grandmother passed away.
Instead of getting the mental health support he needed, Will was continually incarcerated, placed in a punitive rather than a rehabilitative environment and discounted as a criminal and drug addict.
Will ultimately found a pastor who attributed the mood swings to PTSD, and committed to work with Will over five years to attain recovery and wellness, housing and employment.
Today, Will is currently the Medical Coordinator for UROJAS community services and a member of Black Men Speak.
While Will has been on medication in the past, and doesn’t assume that he may need it as a tool in the future, he is secure in using his spirituality as his major tool in remaining well.
Khatera and her family escaped Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war when she was a child. Growing up, she struggled with extended periods of sadness, constant worrying, and sudden mood changes.
In her early 20s, after years of being in an abusive relationship and isolated from her family and culture, Khatera saw several psychiatrists to deal with the emotional struggles she had experienced since childhood. They diagnosed her with depression and bipolar. She did not accept these labels and was disappointed with the focus on medication and lack of attention to recovery.
During this time, Khatera was working in a mental health rehabilitation center and struggling with the shame and guilt (internalized stigma) about having mental health issues. She did not share her condition with co-workers fearing she would be discredited and alienated.
The turning point in her recovery was finding her voice through PEERS and the consumer movement. She was able to reconnect with the family that she had pushed away, and started bringing new, non-judgmental people into her life who focused on her strengths, not deficits.
Khatera is now the Executive Director of PEERS, and like many others, is sharing her story of overcoming hopelessness and finding wellness as part of the Social Inclusion Campaign.
In 1964, Jay Mahler was a passionate young college student at UC Berkeley, getting involved with the Free Speech and Civil Rights movement. But a 6-day stretch with no sleep culminated in Jay’s first altered state and he was taken by ambulance to Highland Hospital. "I went from this great childhood, being a good student, and being 'Jay Mahler, the person' to 'Jay Mahler, the mental patient.'" said Mahler. Finally, after multiple hospitalizations, Jay was “diagnosed with Chronic Schizophrenia, Undifferentiated, with a poor prognosis."
Jay spent the next two years in and out of hospitals, being picked up by police, undergoing involuntary shock treatments and being given doses of medication so high they induced seizures. Finally, he was referred to a group consisting of an eclectic psychologist and other people with mental health problems. The experience prompted Jay to get back to college (majoring in psychology), join a spiritual community, develop relationships, and return to work.
In the years since, Jay has been an avid patient rights advocate, was actively involved in the Mental Health Services Act implementation, and serves as the Consumer Relations Manager for Alameda County Behavioral Healthcare. Mahler's story of recovery is remarkable, but it is not unique. For those on the path to recovery, Mahler says, "Nothing important is easy, but recovery is possible."
Mahler — and many others like him — are telling their stories as part of a new initiative that aims to break down the barriers caused by stigma and discrimination that many people with mental health problems encounter.