August 2009         
www.namiohio.org

Carolyn Givens, Executive Director

Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation

Carolyn Givens

Carolyn Givens, Executive Director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, understands all too well the harmful effects of stigma. Six years ago, her husband of nearly 30 years, tried to take his life. 

“Stigma played a big role in keeping his illness under wraps. We were a proud family.  Just trying to piece things together for him to explain how he was feeling was an exhausting task for all of us.  He didn’t want to be viewed as a failure, a disappointment to his wife, his two sons or our families,” Carolyn shared.  “The fear of disclosing how complicated his life had become was so overwhelming.  One secret led to another.  Unknown to us, he self-medicated with alcohol which I have come to understand from him went on for years. Talk about living in the land of denial. We were the poster family for it. The irony is that at the time, I was the director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services!”

Carolyn explained that her husband had gone to several counselors over the years, but no one ever provided an accurate diagnosis.   “I think the fact he is African American contributed to the missed diagnosis of his illness. That, and the fear of being viewed by others—and himself—as weak and having character flaws continued to perpetuate the cycle of dysfunction,” she said.  

Carolyn shared that on some level she knew things at home were not quite right, but she explains, “Dysfunction is actually rather easy to accommodate.  For years, I worked hard at keeping all of the plates in the air, and as long as none of them dropped, everything was okay.”

One of the plates finally did drop.  It was a Friday, and her husband was fired from his job for stealing money from the store where he worked.  When he came home from work, he did not share with his wife what had happened that day.  The next morning, he got up and left for work as usual.  That night, he and Carolyn went out to dinner, and the next day he went to a Cleveland Browns football game.  He did not share a word about his job loss all weekend.

“On Monday, I came home from work and fixed dinner.  When he didn’t come home, I called my boys to see if they knew where he was.  They didn’t know either.  While waiting for him, I received a phone call.  It was St. Ann’s Hospital telling me that I needed to come to the emergency room and to bring my sons.  My husband had attempted suicide.”

“In looking back, I realize there were signs.  For some time he had been lethargic, he quit conversing and he isolated himself.  The weekend before he hurt himself was different, though.  He seemed to have peace, which I realize now is even more dangerous than the lethargy.  In his mind he had already decided that death was better than facing the truth.”

One thing this experience has taught me is if we are ever going to successfully eliminate the stigma of mental illness and addiction,  we need to be willing to talk about it. 

“As angry as I was at him, my paramount issue at that time was making sure he would not harm himself again,” Carolyn said.  For the next several months, with the help of family and friends, she focused on getting her husband, her children and herself the treatment they needed.  “For a while, I found the best way to cope was to fake that I was doing okay, and I worked an awful lot to stay busy.  But believe me, there were also many tears.”

It was several months later when the last plate dropped.  “It was my birthday, and my father, who had been living with us for the past ten years, passed away.  It was during this time I learned my husband had taken money from him as well.  Despite all that had happened before, it wasn’t until this realization I finally decided it was time to take my head out of the sand.  Enough was enough.  I had to quit looking the other way,” Carolyn said.  “I believe that people need to be accountable and responsible for their bad actions, even if sickness is at the root, whether that means incarceration, or in our case, the loss of a marriage.”

Today, Carolyn’s ex-husband’s life is much better.  He is involved in a twelve step program and has five years of sobriety. He adheres to his medication regime and he attends counseling.  “Recovery works as long as you work the program,” she said.  “I consider him a dear friend and I wish him well.” 

When asked about her job choice, Carolyn said, “I believe God has put me in this current position as an opportunity for me to heal and to be able to be there for others.  As you can imagine, I am passionate about my work.” 

“One thing this experience has taught me,” said Carolyn,” is if we are ever going to successfully eliminate the stigma of mental illness and addiction,  we need to be willing to talk about it.  I needed to find my voice.”  And she has.  

Cuts to Housing for Those with Serious Mental Illness Are Personal

Last week, NAMI Ohio learned that in addition to the $10.3 million cut to the Residential State Supplement program that funds supportive housing for the mentally ill living in Adult Care Facilities, the Governor and General Assembly cut another $3 million in funding for needed repairs to these facilities.   These funds ensure that the residents have adequate heating, air conditioning and plumbing and provides for needed repairs. 

Adult Care Facilities are group homes which provide housing to some of Ohio’s most needy mental health clients, individuals who otherwise would very likely be living on the streets, in state mental health hospitals, or in Ohio’s jails and prisons.  Clearly, any anticipated benefit to the State’s budget by the$13.3 million cuts to these housing programs will be easily eaten up by the much greater costs associated with these “housing alternatives.”  Of course, you can’t put a price tag on the human suffering that will be exacted.

In today’s Columbus Dispatch, the First Lady was quoted as saying that she and the Governor are not taking the criticisms aimed at his administration “personally.”  Perhaps that’s the problem.  We need the Governor and the General Assembly to understand that it is very personal to those who are impacted by these devastating cuts.  (http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2009/08/31/copy/first_lady.ART_ART_08-31-09_B1_KIEU1K0.html?adsec=politics&sid=101)

If you are appalled by the treatment of individuals with serious mental illness in the latest budget, please contact the Governor’s Office (1-614-466-3555 or click here:  http://apps.das.ohio.gov/govpublic/contact.aspx)  and your representatives in the General Assembly (1-800-282-0253, http://www.senate.state.oh.us/senators/, or  http://www.house.state.oh.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=1 ). Express your feelings.  Let your elected officials know how you feel. It is the only way we can bring change to this terrible situation.

 

Stigma Busting Challenge: Are you a member of a local service organization?  Contact NAMI Ohio and we will schedule a local speaker for an upcoming meeting!