Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

September 27, 2013

Program empowers survivors of mental illness to share their stories, educate others

Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — About two dozen people sat on the edge of their seats Thursday morning, listening with rapt attention as three local women told their stories, one by one.

The stories were what the morning was all about: the stories and the graduation of the participants of the "Respect Institute," a program hosted by the East Texas Coalition for Mental Health Recovery.

The three-day Institute program, held at the Jacksonville Public Library, "is a good way to present our life lessons to the world," said Jim Lemmon, director of the Coalition.

"When I get finished with the Respect Institute I feel wide open," he acknowledged.

The Institute was founded by Missourian Joel Slack, who led the seminar.

Slack himself suffered from a mental health issue and discovered, through his healing and his work, that the most compelling way to teach others about mental illness was to hear it from the people who experienced it themselves.

"People with mental illness never get to sit down and tell their own story; there's always someone else trying to tell it for them," he said.

"It's educational to listen and healing to those who do get to share their stories," he continued. "You see a glimpse into the humanity of that person."

During the hour long graduation ceremony, three local woman shared their stories of experiences with mental illness.

Tracy dubbed her tale, "Tie a Knot and Hang On." Denise's was "I Just Wanted To Be Loved," and Charlie spoke about her experiences with her husband's mental illness.

"There is a long history of the healing effect of storytelling," Lemmon said. "That's what we're here to share today."

After they complete the program, participants are urged to go out and share their stories about struggles with mental health with police, nursing students, social work students, drug and alcohol counselors, licensed clinical social workers and others.

Approximately 12 area residents graduated from the program yesterday. They received a certificate of completion an an appointment book for scheduling their future speaking engagements.