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May 2010

Terry Russell

Mental Health Advocate

Terry Russell

When long time mental health advocate, Terry Russell, was 13 years old, he remembers riding the bus home from school one day.   When the bus arrived at his house, he saw a paddy wagon in the driveway and the police escorting his brother into the van to take him to the state psychiatric hospital.  He remembers the taunts from the kids on the bus, and his feelings of anger toward his brother for embarrassing him in front of his friends.  When he went into the house, he found his mother equally as distraught over what the neighbors and her friends at church were going to think. 

“My father was nowhere to be seen.  He was at work.  He was always at work.  It was his way of coping with my brother’s mental illness…his way of escaping a home that was held hostage to this disease,” Terry said.    

Terry’s older brother, Johnny, was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young man.  Since there was a 15 year age difference, Terry doesn’t remember what Johnny was like before his illness, but he has heard stories.  “He was a terrific roller skater and loved ballroom dancing. 


He enjoyed music and played the saxophone, although he wasn’t very good it.  He often talked about starting a band,” Terry said.  “He loved spending time with our extended family and people really enjoyed being around him.  At his funeral, I remember one of my cousins coming up to me and telling me he was the nicest cousin she had, and we had a lot of cousins!”

“But the longer he lived with mental illness, the harder it was to be around him.  The illness affected his personality. He was hard to talk to.  Once he had an idea in his head, there was no budging him.  There was no give and take in the conversation, no negotiating.  He was always right,” Terry said.

“Johnny was never aggressive.  Never.  Oftentimes though, his behavior was very bizarre.  He would yell and scream at my mother and say things that were nonsensical.  When it got too bad, we would call the police and they would take him to the state hospital.  After a few months in the hospital, he would come home and things would be okay for awhile, and then eventually, things would get bad again, and he would have to go back to the hospital,” Terry shared. 

“He couldn’t work, even when he was ‘well’ because he was always tired.  He had trouble sleeping at night, so he would sleep during the day.  When he wasn’t sleeping, he smoked constantly.  I can’t remember a time that he didn’t have a cigarette in his hand. There were not the medications available back then like there are today.  If there were, I’m sure his life would have been completely different…much better.  He could have been judged by his successes, rather than measured by his illness.”

“As I got older and began thinking about what to do with my life, I decided that I wanted to help people like Johnny.  No family should have to go through what ours did.”  After high school, Terry enlisted in the Army.  Following his discharge, he earned his undergraduate degree in social work from OSU and then began his long career in the alcohol, drug and mental health field.   He became the youngest executive director of a county mental health board when hired by the Clark County 648 Board.  During his tenure,  both Greene County and Madison County merged with the Clark County Board.  After 25+ years of service to the Board, Terry retired and was immediately hired by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, where he served as the Executive Director for eight years.  After retiring from that position, he took on the role as consultant and helped to start the Ohio Adult Care Facilities Operators Association, where he advocates on behalf of individuals with serious mental illness who cannot live on their own.

Like many good initiatives, the recovery movement has created a professional stigma that looks down on those who, due to their illness, cannot work or live independently in the community.

Terry's commitment to others living with serious mental illness has only increased as the years passed.  As an advocate, he explained, "For someone who supports the concept of 'recovery', I can assure people that, with appropriate treatment, these illnesses can be managed and the vast majority of the citizens of Ohio can lead productive lives. However, like many good initiatives, the recovery movement has created a professional stigma that looks down on those who, due to their illness, cannot work or live independently in the community.  Because of this professional stigma, many people end up on the streets and in our prisons or jails.  With 24-hour support, these individuals whose symptoms are the most severe, could live a high quality of life when their basic needs of housing, food and socialization are met." 

“My biggest regret was that I was not a better brother to Johnny.  He saw me as trying to be a father figure.  Because of my background in mental health, I took on the watchdog role, and was always pushing him to get help for his illness.  I wasn’t as patient with his illness as I should have been, and I think he resented it.    He was closer to my other brother, Jerry, who is seven years older than me.  Jerry was his buddy, and that is what I wish I had been.”

Johnny died at age 70 from a heart attack.  He was living alone at the time.

Terry has dedicated his career to helping people like Johnny.  “I have been blessed to be in leadership roles and have helped to make some significant improvements in our mental health system.  However, I am saddened that there are many people with mental illness who are not getting the help that they need and I know that there are still 13 year old boys out there living the nightmare that I lived.” 

Mental Health Month Reminds Us to Gauge Our Own Health

There is no line that neatly divides the mentally healthy from the unhealthy. There are many different degrees of mental health. No one characteristic by itself can be taken as evidence of good mental health, nor the lack of any one as evidence of mental illness. Most importantly, nobody has all the traits of good mental health all the time.

The following is adapted from the Mental Health Association of Greater Dallas’ publication “Mental Health is 1 - 2 – 3” and represents characteristics of people with good mental health:

1. They feel comfortable about themselves. They are not bowled over by their own emotions--by their fears, anger, love, jealousy, guilt or worries; The can take life's disappointments in stride; They have a tolerant, easy-going attitude toward themselves as well as others; they can laugh at themselves; They neither under-estimate nor over-estimate their abilities; They can accept their own shortcomings; They have self-respect; They feel able to deal with most situations that come their way; They get satisfaction from the simple, everyday pleasures.

2. They feel right about other people.
  They are able to give love, to consider the interests of others, and to accept love; They have intimate emotional relationships that are satisfying and lasting; They expect to like and trust others, and take it for granted that others will like and trust them; They respect the many differences they find in people; They do not push people around, nor do they allow themselves to be pushed around; They can feel they are part of a group; They feel a sense of responsibility to their neighbors and fellow human beings.

3. They are able to meet the demands of life.
  They do something about solving their problems as they arise; They accept responsibility for who they are and what they do; They shape their environment whenever possible... adjust to it whenever necessary; They learn from the past, live in the present, and look to the future with hope; They are objective enough about life to find humor even in difficult situations; They welcome new experiences and new ideas; They make use of their natural capacities; They set realistic goals for themselves; They are able to think for themselves and make their own decisions; They put their best effort into what they do, and get satisfaction out of doing it; They have a religious or philosophical view which gives their lives purpose and direction.

Hap LeCrone adapted this information and provided it to readers following the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2006.


Stigma Busting Challenge: Make a stand, take a step: participate in a local NAMI Walk or other Mental Health Awareness event...and invite your friends to walk with you!

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