She shares her story to help those strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle&n.c. - BY CHRISTA GALA the or­ga­ni­za­tion im­pressed you enough to get in­volved? Q: You joined the NAMI-Wake County board in 2014 and be­came pres­i­dent in 2016. What about

When An­drea Chase’s hus­band was di­ag­nosed with a men­tal ill­ness in 2011, she at­tended classes and sup­port groups at NAMI-Wake County, an af­fil­i­ate of the Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness.

To­day, in ad­di­tion to work­ing a full-time job, Chase, 52, is the pres­i­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion as it hires its first ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

It was the first place I heard any­one speak about re­cov­ery from men­tal ill­ness. None of the doc­tors or men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als I had been work­ing with even talked about the pos­si­bil­ity of re­cov­ery. In­stead, we were re­ally crim­i­nal­ized for hav­ing a men­tal health con­di­tion – the way we were treated. There was a lot of stigma that we ex­pe­ri­enced, and it was the way other peo­ple re­sponded to us that made ac­cess and treat­ment so dif­fi­cult.

Q: What did the classes teach you?

A: When I learned about the bi­ol­ogy of the brain in the fam­ily-to-fam­ily class, I learned about stigma; I learned about the his­tory of how we have pri­or­i­tized treat­ment for men­tal health. All of that was the missing link for me to know what I needed to do to ad­vo­cate for my rel­a­tive and my­self while try­ing to ac­cess care.

Q: Nearly 1 in 5 peo­ple in the United States ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal ill­ness. What hap­pens when peo­ple don’t have ac­cess to care?

A: For my fam­ily, what it means is that my hus­band goes in and out of home­less­ness. It means he’s not will­ing to go to an in­pa­tient fa­cil­ity be­cause the way he was treated ini­tially was so trau­ma­tiz­ing for all of us.

If we can’t make it eas­ier for peo­ple, if we don’t stop shack­ling peo­ple and forc­ing fam­i­lies to call the po­lice, we’re not go­ing to move in the right di­rec­tion. It’s a choice that we have to make as a com­mu­nity to pri­or­i­tize and sup­port men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als, mak­ing sure they’re be­ing paid liv­ing wages so we get qual­ity care.

Q: How is the state do­ing pro­vid­ing ac­cess and re­sources for men­tal health care?

A: I think for our state we’re go­ing back­wards; we’re not be­ing smart about how we ded­i­cate our lim­ited re­sources. We know that our state’s elected of­fi­cials have cho­sen not to ex­pand Medi­care and Med­i­caid in our state, leav­ing out a group of peo­ple, a group of our neigh­bors, who could ben­e­fit from ad­di­tional ac­cess to care.

Q: How is the Wake County chap­ter fur­ther­ing the vi­sion of serv­ing more peo­ple?

A: Most NAMI af­fil­i­ates in our state are vol­un­teers, and NAMI-Wake has been vol­un­teer-run un­til this year. Our board pri­or­i­tized hir­ing staff, so we have hired an ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for our or­ga­ni­za­tion. We feel we want re­sources spend­ing more time each week than (vol­un­teers) can ac­com­plish.

We want to con­tinue to ex­pand the free sup­port groups and classes we of­fer here in Wake County be­cause we feel ed­u­cat­ing in­di­vid­u­als to live with men­tal health con­di­tions and their fam­ily mem­bers is one of the best ways we can pri­or­i­tize men­tal health care here in Wake County – to ad­vo­cate for

the care our fam­i­lies need.

Q: What’s sur­prised you the most about work­ing with NAMI-Wake?

A: I guess what’s sur­prised me is how lit­tle progress I’ve been able to make my­self. The rea­son I de­cided to vol­un­teer was that I didn’t want other fam­i­lies to go through what we had been through. It’s been frus­trat­ing and dis­cour­ag­ing – a steep learn­ing curve that I had to take on just to learn about the ill­ness, treat­ment avail­able in our state and how the sys­tem works …

(I) take out time to serve on com­mit­tees and go to meet­ings and share my story, which can of­ten be dif­fi­cult and trau­ma­tiz­ing … and still feel like no mat­ter how many times we share our story, it’s dif­fi­cult to make this a pri­or­ity for our state.

I am im­per­fect; I make mis­takes ev­ery day no mat­ter how much I’ve learned or what my role is with NAMI. I’m just con­stantly

try­ing to read and learn more and make sure I’m putting my time where I can make the big­gest im­pact.

Q: What is the big­gest ob­sta­cle to mak­ing the progress you’d like to make?

A: Be­fore my hus­band was di­ag­nosed, I didn’t un­der­stand any­thing about bipo­lar dis­or­der or se­vere men­tal ill­nesses, and so I know when we’re try­ing to talk about pub­lic pol­icy, the bur­den is placed on those of us who have this spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence. I think that’s the big­gest hur­dle for us to over­come.

Too many fam­i­lies are break­ing up be­cause of the di­ag­no­sis, and it’s not nec­es­sary when we have treat­ment avail­able. We don’t have to put fam­i­lies through what we’re putting them through.


An­drea Chase is pres­i­dent of NAMI-Wake County, an af­fil­i­ate of the Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.