On May 15, 2013 Mental Health America of Hawai`i had it's 8th Annual Mental Health Mahalo Awards Luncheon. The luncheon celebrated passionate, tireless, and creative community leaders who strive to make Hawaii a better place for people with mental health challenges - and, thereby, for all of us.
Some are doing this work to, simply, save lives. Others are motivated out of a sense of commitment to people who society has ignored, and want to see them treated fairly.
With some awardees, their drive stems out of painful personal experience - their own or a loved one’s. One awardee expresses his support through sound and caring business decisions. Each awardee has an inspiring and compelling story.
CONNIE MITCHELL, the Executive Director of I.H.S., believes that working with homeless and mentally ill people was her destiny. It started, she says, when she was in the 7th grade and her girlfriend was assaulted. Connie was 12 years old – she couldn’t do much, but she could be there for her friend and support her. That’s when she realized how powerful it is to just be there for someone.
Connie obtained her nursing degree, never intending to go into psychiatric nursing. But life has a tendency to intervene – a close friend became ill with schizophrenia and died by suicide. She and her husband adopted a 7 y/o girl whose birth mother had a severe mental health disorder. She noticed that many of the patients in the internist’s office where she worked had mental health problems. So she returned to school to get a Master’s degree in psychiatric nursing.
Connie began working at Hawaii State Hospital as a clinical nurse specialist, eventually becoming Director of Nursing and helping the Hospital come into compliance with the Department of Justice lawsuit. She and her colleagues developed a new treatment model for the Hospital: each patient, every day, would come off the unit and participate in active treatment.
Connie came to I.H.S. in 2006, and immediately noticed that it was essentially a mini-mental hospital. Many, if not most, homeless individuals have multiple, complex problems – but the common denominator, she notes, always comes back to mental illness – mental illness and cancer, mental illness and substance abuse, mental illness and a criminal history.
Connie’s passion is to rebuild lives, not just fix symptoms. I.H.S. has started a homeless outreach program with Dr. Chad Koyanagi, a member of our Board, and residents from JABSOM Dep’t of Psychiatry. She’s working with others in the community to provide homeless mentally ill people with Housing First, and then after they’re housed, get them the treatment they need. And she’s been the driving force behind a bill recently passed that will enable the Court to mandate community treatment for those most severely mentally ill people who spiral in and out of the streets, hospitals, and jail.
“Surround people with a supportive community, and they will recover,” says Connie, our Outstanding Community Mental Health Leader.
NANCY KERN, is a trailblazer. Those who work with her talk about her ability to bring up issues that no one else had thought about or had the courage to address. Sometimes that has pertained to HIV/AIDS, sometimes to bullying and discrimination against LGBT youth in the schools, and now it is the prevention of suicide statewide. Nancy has, time and time again, shown that she not only has the vision, but also has the ability to see how to get from here to there.
Nancy’s early work was in HIV/AIDS prevention in the schools and with the Department of Health. As a voice for those who are not heard, she advocated for transgendered adults with the Department of Health at a time when that population was not on the radar screen. Nancy doesn’t seem to be held back by negativity -- instead of finding reasons why something can’t be done, she figures out how it can be done.
As Bob Bidwell, her partner in crime for many decades, said, Nancy loves the righteous battle. Over a period of several years, she was a leader in the passage of Chapter 19, which provides protection on the basis of religion, disability, gender, ethnicity, in the schools. The sticking point was hers and others’ insistence on having sexual minority populations included –it took five years to get it passed.
Nancy was instrumental as a member of the Safe Schools Advisory Committee which developed THIRTY THREE recommendations to prevent bullying and was approved by the Board of Education in 2007. Today, however, she is STILL working with colleagues, including us, to get these recommendations implemented and improve DOE’s response to bullying and suicide.
Today, Nancy has brought that passion to her position as Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Department of Health. When she arrived at the job, she was confronted with sobering facts: The number of young people killing themselves had doubled between 2007 and 2011. Hawaii has among the highest rates in the nation of middle and high school students thinking about, planning, and attempting suicide. Under her leadership, the Department has developed active suicide prevention task forces in each County throughout the State, and is in the process of developing a statewide youth suicide prevention campaign.
Visionary, transformational, optimistic, and unfaltering, Nancy Kern is our Outstanding Mental Health Government Leader.
SUSAN KING has told us that her life is an open book, and she is happy for you to know about experiences. Her hallucinations started when she was 4. She saw and heard people who were trying to scare her. But she never mentioned it – she thought everyone had them. As an adult, she suffered from undiagnosed depression, drank heavily, and became a meth user. Finally, after the death of her second husband, she was thrown into the blackest, bleakest depression. She had talked about suicide for many years, and this time she tried.
She ended up with three bouts in a psychiatric ward. She was still doing meth but no one caught on. However, for the first time in her life a doctor asked her if she had any hallucinations, and she said yes.
So Susan was finally put on antipsychotic medication. It took a long time to get the right combination. She came back to Hawaii – Maui - 7 years ago. She was better, but not quite: she was still on meth.
But finally, when her granddaughter was born five years ago, she decided to take back her life. She did so with gusto, and has now been in recovery, from both mental illness and substance abuse, for 4 years.
She joined Hale o Lanakila clubhouse on Maui and got more and more involved with the mental illness recovery community. She was trained as a speaker in the Speakers Bureau assembled by the Department of Health. She realized that she loved making presentations, and found it cathartic to tell her story. She loved telling consumers – people with mental illness – that they don’t have to be, in her words, “a lump of Jello,” and that recovery is possible….. That even the most severely mentally ill person can have a better quality of life with good care and treatment.
Today, speaking of gusto, she’s President of the Board of Directors of United Self Help, she’s a member of the Board of Directors of the Community Alliance for Mental Health, and she’s a member of the Advisory Board for Mental Health America of Hawaii’s Maui Branch. She is also a Certified Peer Specialist and runs consumer support classes and groups.
Now that she’s better she’s being told she’s way too tenacious! We are so glad! Our joyfully persistent Outstanding Adult Mental Health Consumer Advocate is Susan King.
There never was a prouder college graduate this past Monday than CRYSTAL BROWN. You would be, too, if you had been on the journey she has been on. When she was born, her mother was in jail for robbery. She was raised by her grandparents, and she was bullied starting in kindergarten for having such “old” parents. Because she fought back whenever she was bullied, and because the bullying never stopped, she was constantly in trouble, suspended and finally expelled in the 6th grade.
When she was 9 she met her mother for the first time. She had just found out – by accident - that her mother was in prison. That was also when she had to go live with a neighbor for a year because her grandmother was terminally ill.
After her grandmother died, Crystal’s grandfather did not really know how to parent her; she was not taught how to dress, she came to school dirty, and she was neglected. The bullying got worse. She became more troubled.
Her grandfather put her in foster care when she was 13. She ended up with a foster family on the Big Island.
By this time she had started to study and get good grades. But there was trouble in the foster family. A male member of the family began raping her, almost on a daily basis, for two and a half years.
She told her therapist and social worker, but no one believed her because the family was well known in the community. One day – Crystal is 16 at this point -- his wife came into the room, saw him raping her, and ordered Crystal out of the house at 3 am with her belongings in trash bags.
But after all this horror, life turned around. Crystal was put in another foster home; the woman believed what Crystal told her, and knew it was mandated to report it, and did. Crystal went to her final foster home, where she met the woman who became her Hanai mom. For the past three years, she says, she’s been genuinely happy for the first time in her life. Her abuser was arrested, and he goes to jail on weekends. Crystal went to college.
Today she’s a Peer Support Specialist with Project Kealahou and Hawaii Families as Allies, helping other young people who have experienced trauma and are having trouble. She believes that by giving back, sharing her story, and inspiring others that they can survive and flourish -- this gives purpose to everything she went through. She can say to them, I’ve been through hell and back, and I can do anything.
Crystal Brown is our Outstanding Youth Consumer Advocate.
CLINT SCHROEDER is ourOutstanding Mental Health Business Leader.
It’s not as if Clint’s not a busy man. He runs one of the biggest commercial printing companies in Hawaii – they print Honolulu Magazine and Hawaii Business, and they won the 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Award from Pacific Edge Magazine. Their community commitments run to working to save a local elementary school from being closed, to supporting the Muscular Dystrophy Association, to using solar energy and providing a recycling location for telephone books and glossy magazines. Clint was selected as one of the “40 under 40” in 2011 and this year has been President of the Rotary Club of Metropolitan Honolulu.
Today we’re here to celebrate him because of his commitment to mental health. Why this commitment? As he says, all of us are affected by someone with mental health challenges. He lost his 25 year old brother to suicide.
We are here to recognize him for having served as business chair for the NAMI Walk in 2011, for giving generously, and helping to raise $80,000 for that organization.
And we’re here to thank him for hiring members of the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse in landscaping, janitorial and warehouse work. Their facility in Kalihi takes up half a block, so there’s a lot of landscaping to be done.
He’s trained his team at Hagadone and they are very supportive of the Clubhouse members.
He is full of praise, and makes the members feel proud. Every morning he compliments the workers when he sees them watering plants, telling them how good the landscaping looks. He tells them, “The place never looked better” since they’ve started working there. Plus -- he pays above minimum wage. The Clubhouse members love to work there.
As Kim Golis, the director of the Waipahu Aloha Clubhouse says, “He has a heart for helping people.”
MIKE AND MARGIE DURANT, did not want to learn about mental illness the way they did. Their son Jay’s adolescent years were turbulent. But Mike and Margie attributed it to the nature of being a teenager – their older son had been a handful too. Or, they thought, it was their parenting skills. But Jay’s behavioral problems mounted, he began having panic attacks and doing poorly in school, and he was finally expelled at the end of his junior year.
It turns out these were not just the ups and downs of adolescence. Jay was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 18. Mike and Margie were devastated, as you can imagine.
The next 17 years of their lives were filled with confusion, hope, fear, and frustration. They felt so lost. But they found NAMI in 1994 and there they found a community of support. And there they gave back.
They have been what we can only describe as the godparents of NAMI Hawaii – in the best sense of the word. Mike served as Board president for 7 years. For the past dozen years he and Margie have facilitated a Family Support Group.
They were the Jay Walker Team Captains for the NAMI Walks, in tribute to their son. They played a major role in NAMI annual benefits for 10 years. Margie was the newsletter writer and editor.
Mike has spent the last six years as Oahu Service Area Board member, and is currently Chair of the Governor-appointed State Council on Mental Health. They are beloved by a wide circle of friends who they have brought into the NAMI family as generous contributors.
Sometimes learning things years later can be heartbreaking. One day Margie found something that Jay had written in kindergarten. He was asked to complete the sentence, “I feel safe when…” and he wrote “never.”
Mike and Margie Durant are our Outstanding Family Mental Health Advocates.
Thank you to all of those who joined us for a moving celebration of these extraordinary people who are helping some of the most invisible people in our community.