Mental health consumers are 1 in 5 in the United States. They face the same daily obstacles that everyone else faces. However, they face obstacles with a mental illness. The general population has all kinds of beliefs that are not true about mental health consumers. They seem to be afraid of them and base their treatment of them on that fear. Mental health consumers are not dangerous, for the most part, they want to be better, and be productive. When someone we know gets cancer, we rally around them to help. When someone we know becomes mentally ill, we tend to stay away like it’s contagious.
Consumers have to fight twice as hard, to get their needs met, than non consumers. The general public seems to have the idea that the consumer somehow caused their own illness. One of the biggest obstacles that Tricia Alloway faces as a mental health advocate is getting the general public to understand the illness itself. She would like to see the public give mental health consumers the same fair opportunities that they give to non consumers. Tricia says, “I find it extremely frustrating to have a consumer go out and ask for what they need, and then have the consumer come back to me and say that they were shot down. Tricia has been in social work all of her career. When she was hired at SafeHaven , and learned what consumers face on a daily basis, she decided that doing advocacy work was where she was meant to be. Tricia said “My mission is giving a voice to someone who has none, and I consider this an honor. ” In that sense, it is what being an advocate actually means. One of the most critical issues that Tricia has faced as an advocate at SafeHaven was a suicide attempt. Several years ago, she was working closely with a woman named Tina who had been dealing with a lot of serious issues in her life.
Tina was dealing with severe depression, looking for work, had lost her child to foster care, and had basically given up. She came in one morning and seemed to be feeling better; she said “I am feeling better today”. Later that afternoon, something compelled Tricia to leave her office and go to the basement. Tricia found Tina there, unconscious. She had taken a bottle of pills. SafeHaven called 911 and Tricia had to try to keep Tina breathing until rescue came. “I felt for a long time that I had somehow failed Tina and that I had missed something I should have seen,” Tricia said.
With mental health consumers however, it can be tricky to read what they are feeling on any given day When asked about how her personal experience with being a mental health consumer has contributed to making her a successful mental health consumer advocate, Tricia said, “While working at SafeHaven I became a victim of domestic violence. I went through so much, but in addition, became so depressed that I needed to be on medication myself. Being on the meds helped me realize how fortunate I was to be healthy. ” Tricia received all kinds of support that she would not have gotten had she worked anyplace else.
She was fortunate enough to get well again, but her experience in being sick, helped her to understand what consumers really need. The job as a mental health advocate can be very rewarding. They have holiday parties for the mental health members. For many of the members this is the only holiday celebration they get. Many members have no family ties, or even the money to have a dinner of their own. They serve over 100 people at each site for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They also have a gift for each member to open at the Christmas dinner. These are small and in-expensive, but the idea that someone remembered them is huge to each member.
Tricia remembers her 1st year at a SafeHaven Christmas. She says, “One of the members wanted toothpicks and a candy bar. It was an odd request to me, but to him it was like he had received a million dollars. ” SafeHaven also offers GED classes, free meals, socializations, computers, vocational training, educating them on their illness, healthy living, relationships, recovery classes, support groups, WRAP, self defense, arts and music. Tricia’s biggest achievement at SafeHaven was holding the position of Board President for two years. She says, “It allowed me to continue to see that the members got their needs met.
SafeHavens goal is to see that members succeed outside of the building, and when they do, I feel like I have achieved a great deal. ” SafeHaven is a 501C non-profit organization. They are funded by tri-county mental health board, united way, grants that they have to write for, donations and fundraisers that they put on. SafeHaven has many volunteer workers. When asked how someone from the public could become a volunteer, Tricia said, “Anyone interested in volunteer work should call SafeHaven any time. We are always looking for help whether it is in computer tech issues, office skills, teaching classes or just hanging out with the members. ”