Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Leaders of a peer support group for those with mental illness are hoping to raise awareness about the condition, and assure people that there shouldn't be any stigma attached to this health issue.
Those days are “in the past, because if anybody thinks they can live a life and not come into contact with someone who (isn't affected) of mental health issues, they're fooling themselves, because they can impact anybody at any time, for whatever reason,” said Suzanne Hardin, a peer support specialist with the Cherokee County Peer Support Group based in Jacksonville.
“It's not a brain deficiency,” she said, as her fellow peer specialist Chriss Musick added, “It's a chemical imbalance.”
Hardin nodded. “It's nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
“In our group, we compare it to someone with diabetes, (how altered blood sugars) can cause problems for someone,” Musick said.
On Thursday, CCPSG hosted an inaugural “Sweet 'Art' Show,” a silent auction featuring artwork by CCPSG clients, staff and supporters. Some 33 pieces – created using paint, pencil, mixed media and photography – were set up in the Jacksonville Public Library meeting room.
“One of our members of the coalition that's meeting here today came up the idea at a collaborative family health care conference in Austin last year, and it just grew from here,” Musick said, explaining that peer support coordinator Jim Lemon directed the budding artists in constructing frames for their work.
The local peer support group was founded eight years ago, thanks to a state grant for consumer-operated services, Musick said.
Hardin “rose to the occasion, and decided to do it, and I've been right along with her the whole time,” she said.
Each month, an estimated 25-30 clients meet at the Jacksonville center, located at 635 Nacogdoches. While the group is open to anyone from the Cherokee County service area coverage, “we primarily see people from Jacksonville,” Musick said.
Art classes are offered at 10:30 a.m. Mondays, while the support group meets at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays for a light meal, with peer counseling lasting “as long as it's needed,” Hardin said.
Musick also is a Wellness Recovery Action Plan facilitator, and helps clients develop plans of action for situations as they arise, “like if they have to go back to the hospital, who they would get to take of things,” she said; “it gives a person a regimen (to follow).”
Her colleague added, “it's like a tool box, (with a plan) you adhere to … so in case you get in a bumfuzzled state, you have that toolbox and you know what to do.”
The group is putting together a contract to be placed under the umbrella of ACCESS, the Anderson Cherokee Community Enrich-ment Services, which operates as a health-needs clearing house, but in the meantime, Musick and Hardin hope to give the public a better understanding of mental health issues and the needs that arise from them.
“Mental health issues are going to be around, and this group is a safe haven for people to come in to be with other peers who understand what they are going through,” Hardin said. “There's no judgement, no criticism, it's just family.”
The group helps “get people off the couch and outside the four walls they might be stuck inside, because they're with people they can relate to,” she added.
“Everybody shares their stories, about where they're at today, and then if there's anybody who is having crisis problems, we work with them, and we can help advocate them with the mental health authorities,” she said.