“[My client] is classified at A&C as a “high risk.” He’s expressed suicidal thoughts and suffers from traumatic brain injuries, debilitating spinal pain, and other serious conditions.”
“A client was initially seen for an intake by the Neighborhood Team, endorsing [suicidal] ideation without intent. The team worked collaboratively to develop a safety plan, CALM, and provided relevant psycho-educational materials in the respective language. The client left the appointment, but later felt triggered, and decided to return to A&C downtown clinic.”
These are quotes from employees of A&C. So many of us work with clients every day who have struggled with thoughts and plans of suicide. Unfortunately, this is common in the world of behavioral health. Mental illness is the driving force of almost every suicide, and any agency worth its salt is going to screen all clients for this risk. But is that enough? Indiana is far above the national average in suicide attempt and completion rates. It is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 15-34. The state has the nation’s highest rate of students who have contemplated suicide at 19% and the 2nd highest rate of attempts at 11%. With numbers like this, it feels crucial to take a look at our methods for detecting suicide risk and ask ourselves how we can do better.
Enter Zero Suicide. Developed by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, it’s a model of care meant to bolster the effectiveness of an agency’s suicide prevention plan. A&C was introduced to this model through a learning community where different organizations across the country share and discuss ways to improve practices. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) chose to fund Zero Suicide implementation for a few learning community participants, and A&C was selected. “It was a natural fit,” said Matt Oliver, A&C’s Chief Clinical and Informatics Officer and chair of the Zero Suicide Committee. He and the nine other members of the ZS Committee have now worked for over a year on implementation. While a year sounds like a long time, this effort is organization-wide, meaning that every one of the 700+ Adult & Child employees must be trained.
September has been the month of ZS training. Employees who work one-on-one with clients in the clinics, in therapy sessions, skills sessions, etc. have completed classroom trainings. Anyone working behind the scenes has taken an online training course. Staff members are trained to look for indicators of a potentially suicidal person and then taught what questions to ask to determine risk. “We don’t want people to slip through the cracks,” said Matt. If someone expresses suicidal intent, they are placed on the ZS Pathway, a process taught to direct care staff during classroom trainings. The Pathway is designed to fortify clients with several different levels of support including weekly check-ins from A&C’s Crisis Team, enrollment in therapy, and creation of a Safety Plan providing steps to take when experiencing suicidal thoughts. Even after clients improve and are removed from the Pathway, they are still working with primary care providers and receiving supplemental support from the Crisis team.
Equally important to adopting the Pathway model is shifting A&C culture around the topic of suicide prevention. Part of adopting ZS into an organization is for employees to understand that every suicide is preventable and that prevention is part of everyone’s job. Teaching staff how to detect and offer help to those struggling with suicidal thoughts is important to build up confidence around the topic. A staff confident in their prevention knowledge and plan of action is what success in ZS looks like.
With suicide being such a large problem in young people, A&C’s ZS push will involve more emphasis placed on detecting risk in youth. Some may think that talking to kids and teenagers about suicide will introduce them to the idea, but this is a myth. With the statistics that we have, it’s the reality of teenagers’ lives to experience thoughts of suicide. The majority already have passing thoughts about it from time to time. For many it’s not a serious issue, but for those who may be struggling, we never want to feel too squeamish to do a safety check-in.
Matt Oliver says he hopes this effort will make a dent in the Indiana statistics. “We’d like suicide to be a never event,” he said. After all of the training wraps up at the end of September, the official date Zero Suicide goes into practice is October 1st. After that, it is to remain an ongoing standard within the A&C culture. The ZS model is the first formal Pathway the organization has adopted, and its success is likely to set the stage for other formal Pathways in the future.
“When things are getting really bad I see red.” Sara Alrajabi rifles through an art portfolio, pulling pieces out of their plastic windows. “And it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not blood, it’s not anger, it’s just red. It’s just a warning sign for me, and that’s when I know I need to reach out.” She holds up a mixed-media collage. The page is lacquered slick with red paint, framing a photo in the center. She describes her compulsion to create the piece without an idea in mind. “I just started painting red. I actually didn’t know that it was a warning sign until I made this page.” Sara sifts through a few more pieces, describing them as landmarks in her personal journey with mental health. “This one is time,” she says, speaking about an anxiety trigger of lost time. She holds up a self-portrait collage made of pills and band-aids. “This medication on my eyes is my anxiety meds,” she says, “because I need it to see clearly. But here I’m also cross-eyed.”
Sara works as a Peer Support Specialist on Adult & Child’s Homeless & Housing Resource Team. Like many Peers, she has a similar job to her coworkers, but a different origin story. She grew up on Indy’s east side, and describes an early life full of physical & mental health struggles. Born seven weeks premature, Sara endured seizures as well as muscle, bone, and other resulting complications. The major constant in her life became appointments with medical professionals, and eventually therapists after facing bullying and abuse. “I went through therapy on and off,” she said. Sara never fully identified with any mental illness diagnosis, falling into a label-less gray area. Sara discovered a source of solace in art during high school. She found that mixing media helped to form a feeling on a page. Working through her obstacles creatively relieved some of the mounting pressure and monotony of this period.
Even with an outlet, Sara felt trapped in a cloud of unwellness as she grew up. To her, true freedom meant living and working and making it on her own. But she couldn’t visualize a future where that was true. “I was so lost, I felt just overwhelmed by the whole [employment] process. I thought my destiny was to apply for Disability and be done.” Sara describes feeling very conflicted due to the pressure from her family to accept this fate. “[My mom] kept saying, ‘You just need to apply.’ I said, ‘I want to work.’ And she said, ‘I don’t understand why when you can get free money.’”
Questioning her future as well as her sexuality, Sara joined the Indiana Youth Group, a local organization designed to support LGBT+ youth and allies. IYG quickly became a place of refuge for her. It was where she found a mentor, a place to belong, and the beginning of her career search with A&C. Jane Wiles of A&C’s Job Links team one day delivered a presentation on supportive employment to the group at IYG, including Sara. Deep in the battle with an eating disorder and facing stress about her uncertain life trajectory, Sara was mesmerized. “I was like, ‘I’m gonna do that and she’s gonna save my life,’” said Sara. “[Jane] gave out her card and I emailed her as she was walking out the door.”
Sara put all her faith in the chance that Jane would have the answers she’d been searching for. She walked into their first meeting timid, asking quietly if she was in the right place. Jane’s quick response of, “If you’re gonna meet with me, you’re not gonna whisper,” set off a tone of courage for their joint exploration into employment. Jane began by involving Sara in the Vocational Rehab Program and taught her everything she needed to know about applying and interviewing for jobs. After so many years of feeling boxed in by her limitations, Sara started to feel more and more confident by the day. Still, every day she faced inner and outer voices telling her it wasn’t worth it, that she’d never make it. She slowly learned to block them out with the support she found at A&C and her continued self-exploration through art. “[Jane] helped me figure out who I was,” said Sara. “I told her I wanted to be like my mentor at IYG, that I wanted to share my story, but I wasn’t sure how.”
Jane recognized a serious drive in Sara and knew she’d fit like a puzzle piece into the state Certified Recovery Specialist program, where Peer Support Specialists are trained. They applied, and Sara was officially certified the following summer in 2014. That winter, she graduated from Ivy Tech with an associate’s degree. Carrying this momentum into the job market, she landed a role with Noble of Indiana working with intellectually disabled adults. Over the next couple years, Sara moved to a job at Midtown Community Mental Health counseling young adults at their drop-in center. Sara continued to rise to every challenge, eventually outgrowing these roles. She knew she was in the right field, but always sustained a nagging feeling that she could do more, expressing these thoughts to Jane every so often. “Then one day [Jane] called me and said, ‘I found a job that you will rock and roll.’” The job was for a Peer Support Specialist at Adult & Child. It seemed like a full-circle fairy tale, but Sara hesitated. “I felt like A&C did so much for me, that it was almost too good for me,” she said. “I was afraid to apply.” But Jane pushed, and Sara caved, eventually applying for the role in fall 2016. By winter, she became an official A&C employee.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” she gushed. Sara works every day with adults over 35 who struggle with homelessness and mental illness. Her goal is to connect them with services designed to better their lives & provide personalized emotional support. Peer Supports are hired to draw inspiration from their own journey with mental health and/or addiction and gain the trust of their clients through that shared struggle. Throughout much of her life, Sara’s solace from her symptoms was art. Creating something beautiful out of newsprint, magazines, found objects, and ugly feelings acted as an intimate form of therapy in dark times. Now when counseling her clients, Sara often uses art as a therapeutic technique. Earning the trust of a client through sharing their own story is the philosophy behind peer support, but Sara’s is more colorful than most. When she sees a client is ready, she will let them flip through her personal portfolio of collages, and propose making art as a way to connect with one another. “Some people cry, some people really love it. Some people are like, ‘This is the coolest thing ever.’ I’ve had some people ask, ‘Can we do this right now?’”
Not only can art act as catharsis for clients, it’s also helpful for Sara to pinpoint how best to counsel them. They’ll discover insights from creating their own pieces or sometimes will reference emotions and say, “I’m getting that feeling like that one piece you showed me.” In this way, a type of artistic language develops, bonding Peer and client. There’s also the potential to spin off into other forms of expression such as poetry or songwriting. For some clients, it’s terrifying to visit such emotionally vulnerable spaces in their psyche. But what Sara’s able to do as a Peer is show how positive creative expression has been for her own mental health. This can often give others the confidence to explore it as well.
One of the most common reactions to her art and her story is inspiration. Sara gives people hope for success similar to hers. After finding the fulfilment she’d been searching for in her current job, Sara continues to grow in confidence & recovery. She wants to continue making and sharing art that heals, she wants to lean further into her role of helping the homeless population. It’s obvious in the way she speaks about her work that she’s found her calling. Sara’s here to make beauty out of everyday objects and healing out of everyday pain.
Trapped under the thumb of an oppressive military government, Helen Muan’s family needed a way out. The climate of political unrest in 1980s Burma was heating to an uncomfortable degree, with military-enforced socialism draining the country’s economy. 1987 brought with it a massive tipping point. Without warning and without compensation the government devalued all 25, 35, and 75 kyat notes, devastating 75% of the nation’s finances and rendering Helen’s parents’ life savings worthless.
For them, financial recovery in Burma was not an option. Determined to lift his family from poverty, her father Augustine, went to find work in India, hoping to send back enough money to sustain them. After building the shape of a life that his family could fit into, Augustine moved them all to Delhi. But they knew this was just a stepping stone in a larger journey. The family filed for refugee status in the United States. Many years of waiting later, Augustine, his wife Monica, Helen, her brother, and his wife and children packed up their lives, arriving in Indianapolis in 2015. They were ready to move beyond poverty and uncertainty into a new freedom. But no matter how many oppressors they had escaped, there was one that never left them, and Helen alone was still trapped.
Helen had not developed like most children. Born with a mental delay, she struggled all her life to learn basic tasks. Living in a culture where mental illness is an invisible concept, no schools existed for people with special needs. No resources offered help when her mental illnesses began to compound, anxiety giving way to trauma giving way to mutism.
Shelley Landis, therapist from Adult & Child’s Neighborhood Program, first met Helen and her family at their home in summer 2016. Catholic Charities, a partner of the program who had guided the family through their transition, requested her for a mental health assessment of Helen. They’d already tried many different methods to reach and diagnose her, all with inconclusive results. The day was reserved for a session of music therapy, and Shelley dropped in to meet the family and acquaint Helen to her presence. Surrounded by a music therapist, interpreter, Catholic Charities refugee worker, her parents, and Shelley, Helen did not speak one word.
Helen’s case came to the Neighborhood Program in its infancy and the challenge of it tested the skills of both Shelley and Peer Support Specialist, Zaitin Par. The two approached her care as a team effort. Their first task was to unearth the true Helen under layers and layers of unaddressed mental illness. Helen’s mutism abates with consistency. Through the clockwork of showing up to see her again and again every week, Shelley and Zaitin gained her trust bit by bit, each word from her a new victory. This level of comfort opened up the possibility of setting goals to build up her independence and dismantle her anxiety.
The first practical area the team tackled was hygiene. Helen had never fully grasped the concept, and the responsibility often fell to her parents. Shelley and Zaitin developed a roadmap of small attainable goals designed to lead her further and further into a cohesive hygiene routine. “We created visual aids for her,” said Shelley. “She couldn’t read, so we used a couple websites for autism and different developmental delays and came up with a visual plan where she can check things off.” The tangible activity of checking off tasks caused Helen to view these goals as a challenge, awakening her sense of competition and stirring her self-confidence.
Addressing her anxiety of the outside world fell mostly to Zaitin. Helen’s fear of new people and places was intricately woven into her everyday life. Bringing her to the park or the library served as a form of exposure therapy with a goal of helping her adjust to being in a new space. “At first she would try to hide behind me, especially if we were talking to someone,” said Zaitin. But through constructing a foundation of trust with her Peer Support Specialist, Helen would gradually let her guard down. “Helen and I have a good rapport,” said Zaitin, “She trusts me. Now, if we do something and I’m there, she pays more attention.”
Over the course of a year, Helen has made enormous strides forward. Her parents continue to be amazed with her progress. They’ve witnessed her transform from virtually helpless to now maintaining her own hygiene and contributing to household chores. They were lost for many years wondering what was best for their daughter and needing unavailable care. Every task they do for her echoes their unconditional love, but fear and uncertainty drove them to isolate her from a world that didn’t understand her. With support and instruction, they have made strides right alongside her. Shelley and Zaitin meet with Helen once a week, but Augustine and Monica are committed day in and day out, moving with her toward every milestone. Shelley is equally impressed by them as they are with Helen. “Her parents are quite seriously amazing. Her dad is near sainthood,” she said, describing how even through a physical disability, he walks Helen to every single appointment with Adult & Child.
The family now has a renewed hope for Helen’s future. Shelley attributes how well she’s done to her growing confidence with every small victory. “She started to believe in herself,” she said. “Most people never even gave her a chance.” But now, with the right kind of support, Helen has bloomed in a way no one had dared to expect. “I think she will always improve,” said Zaitin. “I have a lot of hope for her.” Shelley referenced a recent comment from a Catholic Charities employee who hadn’t seen Helen in a long time: “They think we’re miracle workers,” she said. But the miracle, as with most accomplishment, is in the slow and steady progress toward bigger and bigger goals. “She took off. She just took off. Never underestimate what your clients can do.” said Shelley, reflecting on Helen’s long journey. “They’ll often surprise you.”
A&C foster parents Chris and JoAnn tell the story of the road to adoption with their three daughters.
“As a WrapAround Facilitator, I provide intensive case management to kids who exhibit the highest level of needs in the State.”
When children and families need a higher level of services than those traditionally provided in home based or outpatient settings, WrapAround Facilitators like Kristen Ludeker-Seibert connect them with a broader support network. WrapAround Facilitators meet with the child and family to identify the underlying factors influencing the child’s behaviors, then “wrap” the child and family in supportive services, tailored to each individual’s needs.
“I engage the family, and work to identify others who are ‘natural supports’ – that is, people the child is already connected to, who can help that child reach his or her goals. These may be people from school or church; they may be neighbors or extended family; we’ve even engaged a manager at Chuck E Cheese, because that was someone who could provide motivation to one of our consumers.”
“We ask: What is the underlying unmet need? What is driving this behavior? What strategies can we try to change these behaviors? Then we develop plans to help them reach their goals, and incorporate natural supports that will continue to benefit the child long after their services at Adult and Child have ended. We know they’re ready to transition out of services, or to a lower level of service, when we see evidence of decreased tension in the family and improved relationships at school.”
While the WrapAround approach is described by Kristen as collaborative approach and “outside the box,” requiring creativity and flexibility, Kristen notes that the person in this role must also be able to work in a highly structured environment. “Being organized, attention to detail, and time management are key,” says Kristen. “There are a lot of moving parts – a lot of people involved, a lot of dates to manage – but, in the end, all of it leads to a happier healthier family.”
KIMBERLY: CARE COORDINATOR
Before our adult consumers begin receiving services, they meet with a Care Coordinator like Kimberly Brand. Kimberly meets with people to understand what their lives are like today – and determine what services and resources will help them get where they want to be.
“In my role, I get to see the positive transformation in our consumers. I watch them overcome addictions, difficult life events, and mental health barriers to become increasingly independent, with greater self-confidence and an improved outlook on life.”
To help people transform their lives, Kimberly connects them with a variety of professionals at Adult & Child Center, including Skills Development Specialists, Staff Therapists, Psychiatrists, JobLinks staff, and nurses. She also connects them with resources to address immediate needs, like: Social Security benefits, healthcare coverage, housing, food, energy assistance, and clothing. Kimberly works as a liaison between internal staff, government supports and community organizations to help people get stabilized, so they can work with our care teams on their long-term goals.
“My role involves a lot of talking to a lot of people,” she says. “I hold everyone involved accountable to each other. And when a consumer stays engaged in services, and is working toward achieving personal goals, I know we have been successful.”
Kimberly remembers a client whose family was unsure she could remain in the community, due to her struggles with managing her finances and her poor relationship choices. “The family was considering moving her into a group home, but I could see the potential. I knew that if she would work with us, we could help her become more independent.”
Kimberly connected her with a Skills Development staff person, who taught her to use the bus system to get around town. There was an immediate increase in the woman’s confidence, and she began to believe that she could become independent. She continued her services with us, working with a Staff Therapist and Skills Development Specialist to build healthier relationships and become more self-sufficient.
“Her family is amazed at the turn-around,” says Kimberly.
Rodney has a way of reaching the hard-to-reach. As a Child Welfare Specialist with Adult & Child, his work focuses on parents who are at risk of having their children removed from their home, and on youth who are on probation. The common threads between these seemingly different groups are: a concern for the well-being of children & adolescents; a need to teach life skills & coping skills; a need to address the anxiety, depression, and anger that is common among those served; and very often, the presence of substance use.
It’s not an easy task, asking people to change their behaviors. But Rodney does just that – and has been receiving kudos for the changes evident as a result of his work.
If you ask Rodney what he does, he will tell you that he listens. “I just let the client talk, and get their story. Then I ask: What do you think your options are?” he says. “They don’t always know their options. You have to let them know there is a different way. Help them to see all their options. They make their own decisions – but help them see what the impact is of their decisions.”
Rodney has a personal understanding of how decisions influence the direction our lives take. As a teen, he began drinking & using drugs – a habit that continued into his twenties. “I was a functioning alcoholic and drug user,” he said. “I had a full-time job. But then, I started to use drugs more often. And I lost everything.”
In the winter of 2005, Rodney found himself in jail. It was a turning point for him. “I decided I needed to change my life. I found strength in a relationship with Jesus.”
Since his release in 2006, Rodney has stayed sober. In the fall of 2010, he started classes at IUPU-Columbus, earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a focus in substance abuse counseling and case management.
“God led me to work with people who feel hopeless and are where I was,” he says. “My background helps me relate to them. When I meet with people initially, I share my story with them to give them hope and let them know that things can change and get better.”
For nearly 10 years, Rodger Borders III has served as a Peer Recovery Specialist with Adult & Child Health, using his own experiences with bipolar disorder and substance abuse as the foundation for a unique working relationship with his clients. Trust, he says, is the result of speaking openly and honestly about his experiences—both good and bad.
“When they see someone across the table who has dealt with some of the same issues they’re facing, it allows people to see what’s actually possible and to get outside their own heads.”
As one of a growing number of certified peer-to-peer service providers in the behavioral health field—and one of eight employed by Adult & Child Health—Rodger plays a vital part in helping people find their own paths to recovery from serious mental illness or addiction. Working alongside therapists, skills development specialists, supported employment specialists, and care coordinators, he meets with clients where they are most comfortable to offer his own brand of counseling and support. And it works.
According to a recent study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, peer-delivered support services have become an integral part of the recovery-oriented approach to treatment for mental and substance abuse disorders, proving especially beneficial for those struggling with addictions and other chronic conditions.
For Rodger—whose lifelong dreams of becoming a therapist were derailed when his symptoms forced him to leave college early—the reason is simple: “Their symptoms might vary, but most people I see just want to know that someone else has felt the same way and overcome.” And he has.
Rodger first began to recognize that something was wrong when he was in high school, turning to alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication before later being hospitalized four separate times as his condition worsened. Unable to keep a job—he remembers holding more than 30 in a single year, sticking with each for no more than a few days—and unable to stay in school, he worried that he would never be able to have a meaningful career.
But slowly, and with the support of his parents and fiancée (now his wife of 13 years), he learned to manage his symptoms and to take the necessary steps toward a better life. Beginning with a low-level position at a mental health and transitional housing agency, he rediscovered his passion for helping people—working his way up to an assistant supervisor job before being invited to join an assertive community treatment (ACT) team in 2004.
He’s seen the relatively new concept of peer-delivered services take shape in the years since, with training and certification programs evolving to embrace the power of shared life experience. He’s also had his fair share of ups and downs in his own recovery, which he doesn’t mind sharing with the people he serves on a daily basis, so long as it helps.
“One reason I stay (in this job) is that everybody matters, but some people get lost or forgotten—and somebody’s got to care about them. It’s not so much a job as a privilege.”
It was a regular weekday working the Sam’s Club checkout line when Cynthia Grant had her stroke. Under the buzz of fluorescent lighting with a shuffle of customers filtering through the line to the beeping rhythm of registers, waves of numbness started to wash down Cynthia’s right side. She kept trying to ring up the items as they rode along on the conveyor belt, but the feeling persisted until she could no longer feel her hand grip the scanning gun.
After leaving her station and taking her blood pressure and going to the hospital, it was confirmed that she was having a stroke. A sobering reality set in as she was whisked into emergency brain surgery where doctors attempted to piece back together the delicate wiring of Cynthia’s brain. Cynthia Grant has Moyamoya disease, an ailment that causes arteries in the basil ganglia region of the brain to constrict and block blood flow, resulting in strokes. Moyamoya was first coined by doctors in 1960s Japan. Translated, the term means “puff of smoke” due to the almost ghostly appearance of the blockage on a traditional x-ray.
After the drama of the stroke and surgery had calmed, it was determined that Cynthia would not suffer any severe loss of brain function. Still, her brain had undergone trauma and her health was irreversibly affected. Upon leaving the hospital, she had to endure all the doubts and challenges that accompany navigating life with a traumatic brain injury. Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana first guided her through the process of handling life after brain surgery. After a few twists and turns in the referral process, Cynthia’s employment case fell into the lap of Jane Wiles at Adult and Child Job Links.
When Jane and Cynthia first met, the two were partners in putting together the puzzle of Cynthia’s next stage of life. That included a new job. Since age sixteen, Cynthia had worked in customer service. “That’s the kind of job I wanted to do,” she said, “I’m definitely a people person.” The two of them persevered through a list of possible employers, wading through job applications until Cynthia set her sights on working as a cashier at Marsh grocery stores. As an advocate for her clients, Jane Wiles took her role as Cynthia’s job coach to heart. She met with the store manager after they submitted an application and accompanied her on two interviews and subsequent training. To Jane, the largest barrier to employment was Cynthia’s diminished confidence after the stroke. “I went to the interview with her and the initial trainings because she was nervous and wanted someone there with her. That’s the type of support we can provide to ensure that somebody has a smooth transition,” said Jane.
To Cynthia, the job at Marsh was everything she wanted out of employment. She remembers the anxious feeling of first working out on the floor after only two sessions of training. “Some things come very quickly to my mind, but other things… I have to think about it,” she said. But she persisted, and after two years, she now feels comfortable enough to rattle off produce numbers on cue. “It’s a match made in heaven. She loves the job and they love her,” said Jane recalling numerous times the Marsh manager has praised Cynthia’s job performance.
Reminiscing about the Job Links program, Cynthia lit up with excitement. “I miss it!” she said, telling stories of shopping for work shoes with Jane and being greeted by name whenever she walked into the office. “Every time I see someone come in to Marsh with an Adult and Child badge, I say, ‘Do you know Jane Wiles? She’s my job coach. Can you tell her I said hi and that I miss her?’” It’s clear that Jane echoes Cynthia’s appreciation for their relationship. “When I go through her line, she comes around the corner and we hug each other… I don’t even think of her as a client, just as a lifelong person in my life.” The bond between client and coach as well as client and company was an important factor in changing the direction of Cynthia’s life. “If anybody needs any help, I would recommend this place. If they’re looking for a job or just need help in general,” said Cynthia. “I like my job and I’m so content with where I’m at right now.”
My story begins March 20, 2006. That is the day my whole life changed before my eye. Not knowing what was soon to come. I was 12 and attended Harshman Middle School #110. I was in eighth at the time. I lived with my grandmother and little cousin. Growing up as a child my family was classified as “poor”. My whole life we have moved place to place I have been to a little over 8 different schools. As a child we never questioned how things were. We never asked why we had to go to food pantries for food instead of going to the grocery store. No matter how many days we would go without something nice to eat or new clothes to wear, we were the happiest kids. We always kept a smile. I know I had to smile just to hide the tears of thinking what it felt like to have better things like everyone else.
My father lived in Chicago. I have not had contact with him since I was a young child. I would give anything to have a relationship with him. My mother lived here, we never had a close relationship like a mother and daughter should have. My mother is because she used drugs, so I was raised by my grandmother. I have never mentioned this before but I know my mother resented me for being so close to my grandmother.
When I think back on my childhood the only day that really stands out amongst all the other things is the day I was taken away. I remember that day clearly and will never forget it.
The foster parent that we were with had seemed really nice and sweet hearted. India and I were with one foster parent all the years we spent in foster care. The transition from living with an adult to not having an adult there, worked well for me. I continued to go to school and made good grades. For India, I don’t know what went wrong but she dropped out of school. She struggled at the foster home and got discouraged. India aged out the system and I moved into a one bedroom apartment. That is also when I met Jena at Adult and Child Center. She was my transitional living casework. Jena helped me learn more about how to pay for bills, how to write checks, and how to balance my checkbook. She helped us cope with what was going on. I won’t forget her for that.
Currently I will be a sophomore at IUPUI. I am part of Nina Scholar Program and OTEAM. Nina Scholar is a wonderful scholarship that works with students to find their positive core. Since I had a rough background being part of this program truly benefits me. The OTEAM is an orientation team. We are the faces every student that is coming in as freshman or transfer students sees. We work together to make sure no one leaves with unanswered questions. It is sponsored through a scholarship but the friends and relationships you build with other leaders is the reward. I lost all of my friends when I was put in foster care. Coming to college and finding friends who will be there for you is such a good. My dream is to graduate and serve people. My story is a story that not a lot of people have and perseverance is important when you feel like there’s no hope.
Trela, her husband, and her 2 youngest children worked hard to start and grow their successful family business. They lived in their own home and the boys attended a prominent public school system on the Southside of Indianapolis. Their business always left them with enough work and enough money to be comfortable. However, their lives were also plagued with alcohol abuse and domestic violence, which ultimately led to a divorce. After the divorce, financial reasons forced Trela and the boys to leave their comfortable home and move into a small apartment. When working together at the family business continued to complicate their lives and cause chaos for the boys, Trela also left the family business. The boys continued to work for their father from time to time, but Trela was unemployed for months until she began working at a local pizza shop. The boys seemed to struggle with their parents being separated, yet didn’t like the way their mother was treated. They felt guilty because their father needed help, but they felt confliction when they helped him. Their behavior toward their mother seemed to mimic the treatment she received from their father.
Between the stress of the divorce and their newfound financial stressors, Tyler (17) and Austin (15) began acting out. Tyler was placed on probation and began screaming, hitting things, and disobeying his mother. Austin became increasingly more socially reserved, began to withdraw from his family and friends, refused to follow his mother’s directions, and acted out behind his mother’s back. Austin was caught stealing, sneaking out at night, and often fought with his brother. Trela felt helpless and even resorted to calling the police to control her children. She realized then she had lost control of her family and called Adult and Child.
Trela was quickly connected with Jill, a member of Adult and Child’s Family Preservation team based in Franklin, IN. Jill helped Trela understand the boys’ point of view. She gave Trela the tools and confidence to establish and maintain appropriate rules for the boys, and for herself. Jill helped Trela learn to trust her boys, allow them to be independent, and learn to make good decisions. She also helped the boys process their parents’ divorce, the changes that accompany any divorce, and the mixed emotions they each experienced. Jill worked with the family to teach them appropriate expectations for each family member in their respective roles. She discussed the impact of family patterns and discussed their future goals for the kind of men they wanted to be and helped Trela identify what issues she was able to control. Jill helped the family focus on the positive skills that Trela and her ex-husband have, encouraged the family to work together, and encouraged positive communication among the family.
Today, Tyler is preparing for senior prom and looking forward to high school graduation. Austin is successful in school and is also very engaged in sporting events. Trela has learned to trust her boys and the boys have learned to respect their mother. Trela and her ex-husband are able to work together from time to time, have learned to co-parent their boys, and the boys appreciate that their parents respectful relationship. They are a very tightly knit family and they appreciate the time they spend together.
“I was in a difficult place before, and my life has really turned around.”
When I began services at Adult and Child Center, I had chronic depression. People took advantage of me because they thought I was vulnerable. They stole from me.
Adult and Child staff have helped me to set better boundaries in my relationships. They have worked with me on managing my finances – teaching me how to budget and save money, write checks, and pay bills. And, they’re helping me to improve my physical health by encouraging me to walk twice a week with their walking group, and helping me with my doctors’ appointments.
The staff at Adult and Child Center are helping me with my goal to become more independent. They’re helping me to manage my own finances, be in charge of my own physical healthcare, and when I’m ready, they’re going to help me get a job.
I have made new friends. I now have my own checking account. I am working toward becoming more independent. Adult and Child has helped me to make life changes, and I feel so much better. I now have a much more positive outlook.
I’m 34 years old. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Clinical Depression and PTSD at age 9 and began taking medication (10-11 different psych meds) at that time. PTSD was due to traumatic sexual and physical abuse by some of my family members. My first psychiatric hospitalization was at age 9 and I have been in several hospitals since then. I was hospitalized at the rehabilitation hospital in Texas for 2 ½ years, when I was 18 years old, I went to Madison State Hospital and spent 2 years there. Then, after a couple of good years, I was hospitalized again at LaRue Carter for 6 months. My last hospitalization was in February of 2011 and I was at Community North for only 4 days. I am very proud that, today, I am only prescribed 3 medications!!
Adult & Child’s programs have helped me to gain and maintain employment through Job Links. My treatment team therapist and team leader are helping me work through my child abuse issues. Dr. Parrish and I have a great relationship…he has worked with me since I was 18! The team nurse is working with me on my weight issues (due to my medication side effects) and she is helping me through my future bariatric surgery.
Heartfelt Health Alliance is great. They encourage me about losing weight…call to check on me and are very on top of things…It has been really great to have the physical and mental health services in one facility.
It helps me to take care of myself better.
“I’M STARTING OVER AGAIN”
It turns out, that is exactly what Jack is doing. Once a 15-year-old who lived on the streets to escape abuse at home, Jack pushed through depression, anger, and dependence on alcohol to became a successful truck driver and business owner. He got married and started a family. But in 2008, the depression and dependence on alcohol overwhelmed him – and he lost his work, his home, and separated from his family.
Since 2008, Jack has experienced periods of extreme depression (he attempted suicide three times), as well as periods that seemed more hopeful. In 2012, he returned to work, and began volunteering. “I started climbing out of that low place in my life,” he said. But in 2013, Jack was hit by a drunk driver, and suffered extensive injuries. He was unable to return to work, and returned to living on the streets. The setback was followed by increased symptoms of depression and dependence on alcohol.
Today, Jack is starting over again. Through the help of Adult and Child’s Supported Employment program, JobLinks, he is looking forward to starting work at a local grocer. He explains that the support he has received from Azonda, the Employment Specialist who works with him, is making his journey easier. She helps him with his resume, researching job opportunities, submitting applications, and communication. She is also a source of support when he gets frustrated.
“I consider Azonda a friend,” said Jack. “Because of the support I have received, I now have the confidence to work toward my goals.”
What are his long-term goals?
“I want to get back to where I was – to have a stable job, and security, so I can provide for myself,” he says. “I’d love to have my family back.”
It’s easy to be impressed by everything that John Witcher has accomplished. Barely 4 decades into life, and he’s done enough to fill 3 lives: Bachelor of Business Administration, working on his MBA; black belt in Tae Kwon Do, now learning Jiu Jitsu; plays guitar, piano, trombone & saxophone; writes, creates & publishes music; has published 12 stage plays (including “Growing with Albert”, the most popular of the 12); reviews poetry for “Reader’s Favorite; and more. Driven and full of positive energy, John is setting goals, reaching them, and then setting more.
For all John has accomplished, his success at managing his illness and changing his mindset are the most important.
John has schizophrenia. Twenty years ago, he was a young adult who had dropped out of high school, was living at his parents’ home, hoping to move out and become independent. But his mental illness, combined with drug and alcohol use, were too much of a barrier. Being in public was difficult, because he felt self-conscious in public places. A common trait of schizophrenia is paranoia; John felt different from others, and believed even strangers at the mall were judging him because of his illness.
“It’s hard to describe – it was a fear of everything,” he said. “I felt like nobody cared. I had no direction in life. I was at a point where I thought – what can I do?”
In the fall of 1994, John was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I basically had a meltdown. It was some pretty rough times.”
Fast-forward to today, and you see a man who talks about how blessed he is to have so many people in his life who have cared for him. “They didn’t have to,” he said. “But they took the time to care. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the people who cared about me.”
You see a man who lives by the goals he sets for himself. “Setting goals is a positive way to move forward. I discovered, once you achieve a goal and realize you can reach goals, something clicks. Just achieving one goal, your life can change.”
You see a man who not only is successful at work, but is working while going to school for his MBA. “Before getting help, I wasn’t able to hold a job. After getting treatment, I held the same job for 16 years. That speaks volumes.”
John got help at Adult and Child.
John credits the many people at Adult and Child who were involved in his care over the last 20 years with the incredible changes in his life. He has received support from the staff who taught him life skills; from the medical team who helped him identify medications that would reduce his symptoms, and worked with him to manage his medications; from the FACT team, who continues to provide help in identifying community supports and resources that would benefit him; and from the JobLinks staff, who helped him secure employment.
“Adult and Child didn’t just treat the disorder,” said John. “They taught me how to help myself. They taught me life skills and it was a turning point in my life.”
John plans to do more. His goal is to one day develop a scholarship to help people with schizophrenia.
“And I can do that,” he said confidently. “I will get that done.”
“I’ve come a long way,” said DeShon, sitting down to share her decades-long story of abuse, mental illness, homelessness, and recovery. “I’ve been stumbling through life. But now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Here, with my kids and grandkids, and my job, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
DeShon’s life is marked with periods of abuse – first by her father, who abused her mother; then, by her husband. She says that this abuse caused her to experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. At 30 years old, DeShon left her husband and sought support for herself and her young children at a shelter for abused women. Her husband found the shelter and threatened her. “There was nowhere I could hide from this man. His specialty was hunting down AWOL soldiers.”
Sensing she was not able to care for her daughters, DeShon called her mother and asked her to take care of them. Fearing that her husband would find her if she stayed with friends or family, DeShon said, “I went underground. I got to know the homeless people. They helped me find places to stay – abandoned buildings. I knew where the soup kitchens were and how to not die in the dead of winter. And in that environment, I felt safe.”
A few months after leaving the shelter, DeShon’s mother moved with no notice. DeShon lost contact with her 3 children, and her mental state declined. She was homeless for 15 years before seeking shelter at Wheeler Mission in 2012. There, she met Brian Paul – an outreach worker at Adult & Child Health.
“He saved my life.”
After meeting with Brian, DeShon began receiving the help she needed to become healthier, and live a better life. Brian connected DeShon with other staff at Adult and Child. Through these staff, she was able to find an apartment, and received psychiatric support (“I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD”), medication management, Illness Management Recovery (IMR) services, and skills development. She also received training to become a CNA through Vocational Rehabilitation’s supported employment program.
“The team approach was very beneficial,” she said, sharing how the staff at Adult and Child worked together to help her manage her mental illness, cope with daily stressors, and manage her emotions. This team approach is common at Adult and Child, where clients have access to a professionals with a range of experience and knowledge, so they can provide care and support that is most beneficial to each client.
DeShon grew close to Rodger Borders, a Peer Recovery Specialist, who led the IMR groups. This was another change for her.
“Initially, I was miserable with IMR – but it started growing on me,” she recalled. After participating in the group meetings for a while, “It started sinking in because the things that Rodger talked about, I could relate to. I thought, ‘That sounds like me.’ I started realizing I could get better.”
Over the course of a year, DeShon became healthier, secured permanent housing and permanent employment, and reconnected with her daughter and grandchildren. Today, she is employed as a CNA, lives comfortably in an apartment, and spends time with her grandchildren. It’s a drastic change for her, following years of homelessness and being disconnected from her family.
DeShon’s message to others who are living with mental illness is to seek help. “It doesn’t have to be that hard. They won’t force pills down your throat. It will be okay.”
Robert was the proud father of 3 kids and worked full time when, in 2009, he witnessed the shooting death of his son. While he struggled to deal with this loss, over time the burden was simply too much and it began to seriously impact his ability to function. In 2010, he lost his job and found himself in a downward spiral of unemployment and homelessness; most of his family ties had been severed and he was sleeping in vacant buildings without heat or electricity.
As winter began to set in, he made his way to Wheeler Mission and found himself quickly engaged in a partnership between Wheeler Mission and Adult and Child Center Staff called Critical Time Intervention (CTI). This program embeds staff in the area shelters to provide support services based upon the unique needs of each individual. At the time, one of the major barriers to housing for Robert was employment, so Robert was introduced to Adult and Child’s JobLinks Supported Employment Program and quickly began the drive to improve his homelessness.
After nearly 10 months living in the shelter, the submission of countless job applications, and numerous hours of introspection, Robert’s life was about to change in a big way. His JobLinks coach had lined up a job interview with a local security agency…his first interview in months. Around the same time, Robert received news that he was eligible for a partially subsidized loft apartment in a newly renovated historical school building. Robert accepted the job and practically pounced on the apartment and after 10 months of hard work, he found himself employed and living in a beautiful apartment with heat, running water, and furniture.
Robert is very grateful to the staff at Wheeler Mission and Adult and Child Center. He keeps his Shelter ID badge hanging on his kitchen door as a constant reminder of “where he has been”. Robert enjoys writing fiction stories and is very proud of his manuscripts currently posted at Lulu.com.