May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, which began in 1949 as a way to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and bring the voices of those living with mental illness into the conversation. As a part of our dedication to building whole lives, The Women’s Home and our staff are dedicated to speaking out in our community and helping others become ambassadors for mental health in their lives. This May, our highly trained staff have been empowering not only our residents, but also our neighbors in the community to have the courage and the knowledge to combat misinformation about mental health and become active advocates for supportive care and treatment.
One of our Clinical and Chemical Dependency Counselor’s, Theresa Allen, spoke on the impact of domestic violence on the lives of women and their mental health at the Her VOICE: Ladies Leading Ladies’ The Secret is Out…Now What? 1st Annual Community Luncheon Fundraiser in April. Shana D. Lewis, the Executive Director and founder of Her VOICE, hoped that attendees of the luncheon would leave “with the conviction that it is your duty to recognize, act, and respond to domestic violence.” Domestic violence affects the lives of 1 in 5 women according to Her VOICE’s research, and the ensuing trauma can have lasting effects and increase the risk for mental illness and addiction. Theresa explained to luncheon guests the cyclical effect domestic abuse can have, how people recognize warning signs and what can be done to intervene safely, and how The Home’s treatment and transitional housing program works with residents to break the cycle of abuse and build healthy relationships as a part of their recovery.
May 16, 2015, our Director of Programs, Katherine Broussard-Barner spoke specifically on the challenges and issues surrounding women’s mental health at the Omicron Gamma Zeta Chapter (OGZ) of Zeta Phi Beta, Inc. Sorority’s annual scholarship luncheon, Parade of Salads. OGZ chose mental health as the focus of their luncheon because of the increased coverage of mental illness in the media and the rising urgency for awareness and treatment. Mental health ties into Zeta Phi Beta, Inc.’s national Z-Hope program which encourages local chapters to address and serve the needs in their community. OGZ asked Katherine to be their luncheon speaker after learning about The Women’s Home and Katherine’s expertise on mental health through the Houston Walk for Mental Health Awareness.
“We hope to inspire those in attendance to be ambassadors in the community on educating those within their circle on understanding what mental illness is, the agencies available to assist those in need, and a compassion to help those in need get treatment.” OGZ Second Vice President Adrian Hunt said regarding the goal of the luncheon.
Katherine shared the mission and vision of The Women’s Home and detailed not only the work we do in serving women with our treatment and transitional housing program, but also our supportive housing complex Jane Cizik Garden Place (JCGP) in Spring Branch and our two current projects: a housing facility for families and the WholeLife® Service Center which will be down the street from JCGP.
On mental health, Katherine discussed our need as a community to address our fear of mental illness and those who live with it, to move beyond our apprehension of the unknown and approach mental health with compassion and the desire to learn to help not hide. She discussed how women are more often diagnosed with mental illness, for a number of reasons, including women’s higher exposure to trauma as well as how gender bias means lower diagnosis of illnesses like depression in men. She addressed how the stigma those with mental illness face is fed by misconceptions that those with mental illnesses are violent or a danger to the community, rather than the reality that 1 in 5 Americans live with mental illness.
She encouraged attendees be supportive of loved ones living with mental illness and respond to their diagnosis with the same compassion and empathy they might show if it was another chronic condition such as diabetes. Katherine also stressed the importance of listening, of starting conversations not just about mental illness and treatment, but with those living with a mental illness. “We all have a story, we all have a past. Some of our stories are more packed than others, we have to be willing to listen to individuals and unpack their stories.”