December 2008

An Interview with Rhonda Reagh, Ph.D.

Director of Greene County Children Services

As a young girl, Rhonda Reagh remembers being befriended by Eddie, an older gentleman who lived at the mental health institution where her aunt worked in the laundry.  Eddie, who loved to draw, would sit with Rhonda for hours and color while she waited for her aunt to finish her work.  “Eddie was present throughout my childhood and he really made a difference in my life,” said Rhonda.

Through her relationship with Eddie and with a cousin who was also diagnosed with a mental illness, Rhonda was able to learn at an early age that “everyone brings value to your life.”

“I was always encouraged by my family to think that everyone was the same.   I grew up believing that we are all just one step away from experiencing family violence or illness,” said Rhonda.  This experience has shaped Rhonda’s life and eventually led her to the position she holds today as the Director of Greene County Children Services. 

When asked how stigma impacts her work, Rhonda shared, “Our agency works with a high number of parents with a mental health diagnosis and we are constantly confronting the view of  the general public that people with mental illness cannot parent their children.  We are fortunate, however, in that our mental health agencies prioritize families who have children involved in our system.  They are instrumental in helping us to ensure that these families receive the services they need,” said Rhonda.  “One of our jobs here at Children Services is to help the community see that each case is individual.  There is no one size fits all.  We look at a number of issues.  First, of course, is child safety, but we also look at how an individual manages his/her illness and the severity of that illness. “ 

“I have served on Boards with people who have shared their personal experiences living with a mental illness and being served by our system.   This input is invaluable.  Receiving such perspective on what we can do to make our system more humanizing is a very humbling experience.  I encourage consumers and family members to participate on local boards and to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences,” said Rhonda.     

 When asked if she has any words of wisdom regarding stigma that she would like to share, Rhonda says this, “Life is so busy.  People don’t take time for other people.  We need to see the gift that other people bring to our existence.  Everyone has a strength and spirit about them that will enrich your life, it you allow it.”

Cuts to Mental Health are Counterproductive

On December 19th, it was announced that the Ohio Department of Mental Health would receive another 5.75% cut in January.  Slashing mental health services to those in greatest need is the wrong way to go. 

“Beyond the pain and suffering that a reduction in services brings to individuals and families, it makes no sense to cut into services and supports for people with serious mental illness.  It has been broadly acknowledged that such cuts will result in  drastic increases in the usage of hospitals, prisons and long term nursing care, each of which is far more expensive than community based care,” said Jim Mauro, Executive Director of NAMI Ohio. “If the goal is to do more with less in times of economic difficulty, this approach to cost reduction is counterproductive.” 

“NAMI Ohio calls on the Strickland Administration to steer clear of cuts in mental health services.  To do otherwise will simply push the burden down to communities to respond to the increases in visits to local emergency rooms, calls to law enforcement, and the numbers of people living on the streets,” said Harvey Snider, President of NAMI Ohio.     “We must prioritize those in greatest need.  We cannot lose sight of the fact that the role of government is to do for those who cannot do for themselves.”

Stigma Busting Challenge:   Open eyes and minds by making a New Year’s Resolution to share the story of a relative with mental illness with your child or another young person.