Out of the Shadows program is a success
This story appeared on the front page of The Anniston Star on Saturday, May 11.
Mental health summit brings variety of topics to professionals, patients and caregivers
By Kirsten Fiscus, Star Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org May 11, 2018
OXFORD — Andrew Guffey spent the years between second grade and his early 20s cycling in and out of doctor’s offices and programs, receiving numerous diagnoses and medications for his mental illness.
Guffey, now over 30 years into his journey with mental illness, said it took him disappearing, being committed to a state hospital and going to jail before he realized there needed to be a change.
“It’s a shame I didn’t take advantage of the programs and opportunities that were presented to me sooner,” he said during a panel discussion at the Out of the Shadows Mental Health Summit on Friday.
About 275 mental health professionals, patients and caregivers mingled together at the second-annual summit, which filled the second floor of the Oxford Civic Center for discussions on treatment options, wellness techniques and state and local mental health programs.
“This has been a tremendous success,” Anniston attorney and coordinator Brenda Stedham said Friday. “And to think, it all started with just a little idea.”
During Friday’s event, state Sen. Del Marsh said the Alabama Department of Mental Health serves more than 200,000 people annually.
“Less than 1,000 individuals with mental illness and substance abuse addiction are served annually in the state facilities, while well over 100,000 individuals receive services in certified, community-based programs,” he said. “It is estimated that over 40 percent of our prison population suffers from mental illness. Mental health is truly one of the major issues facing Alabama.”
Lynn Beshear, commissioner of the state’s Department of Mental Health, gave the keynote speech Friday morning, briefly touching on the state’s history with mental health treatment.
“Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa was the first mental hospital in the state,” Beshear said. “At one time it held 5,000 patients. The new building, on the same campus, only has beds for 268 people.”
Beshear likened care and treatment options today to those of the 1800s.
“Welcome to the 1850s, where a lot of people suffering from mental illness are not in my facilities, but in prison,” she said. “We’re working to change that, but it’s like flying an airplane and trying to repair it at the same time.”
Many of the speakers talked about a stigma surrounding mental health and illness that they themselves struggled with or struggle to help people past.
“For the department, that stigma prevents us from getting funding, because no one wants to talk about mental illness, and therefore it limits our preventative treatment efforts,” Beshear said. “We have to talk about it and we have to treat this like a disease and not a character flaw.”
During one class, Joe Howell, an Anniston psychologist, instructed attendees how to connect back to themselves.
“After 40 years of sitting and talking with people who have mental struggles I’ve learned that we have to deal with the messages we tell ourselves,” he said. “Exercises that get you moving reminds you that your body is not separate from your soul. If you can connect back to that, you can find peace.”
During a panel discussion, Doug Ford, of Cherokee County, shared his experiences helping his son through a schizophrenia diagnosis.
“He burned down my wife’s studio in December 2015 and that was the best thing that could have happened,” he said. “It meant we could get him some help.”
Ford highlighted the importance of finding the right medication.
“It was like he was in a fog, but as soon as the doctor changed his medication, it’s like that all went away,” he said. “We’ve had conversations with him the last two months that we haven’t had since he was 16.”
As a caregiver, Ford emphasized self-care.
“To be a good caregiver you have to take care of yourself,” he said. “Find something that you can do that will take you away from the disease for a little while.”
Staff writer Kirsten Fiscus: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @kfiscus_star.