February 2009         

Yvette McGee Brown

Yvette McGee Brown has travelled a similar path to others who have been profiled in The StigmaBuster.  She grew up in a loving home.  She went to college.  She graduated from college, from law school and excelled.  Through her professional career, she encountered many people who were either directly or indirectly impacted by mental illness.  She realized that none of us are immune, that all of us have a friend or a colleague that is dealing with bipolar, depression, PTSD or another mental illness.   And, she has been shaped by all of those experiences.

Today, Yvette McGee Brown is the President of the Center for Child and Family Advocacy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  Located in Columbus, the Center is the first facility in the country to bring together, under one roof, comprehensive intervention and prevention services with long-term treatment and support for abused children and victims of domestic violence.  The center’s mission is to end family violence by working together as a community to change the way we respond, and the way we think about violence.

She has never forgotten the words from a person who appeared before her while a judge in juvenile court, “I never knew someone like you could care about someone like me.” 

As a mother to three children, McGee Brown has drawn strength to do what she can to help other families achieve the happiness and wholeness that provides the synergy in her life.  As a friend, she offers a comforting shoulder to those who struggle with the impact of mental illness on their teens.  She has helped her friends deal with questions such as “what will the neighbors think?” or “how do I explain what is wrong with my child in a way that people will understand and accept?”  She has also seen these same illnesses bring parent and child closer together, even though life can be, at times, chaotic.

Yvette McGee Brown served as a judge in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Branch from 1993 – 2002.  It was during this time that she saw many children with behavioral health diagnoses.  She observed that “most of these kids were not ‘bad’ kids but were kids put in a difficult situation and in families that couldn’t care for them or meet their needs.  Too often, they were the children of those who continued to abuse drugs and alcohol, had trouble holding jobs and were not focused on parenting.  Some kids’ lives are entangled in a sticky web of learning disorders, addictions, mental health issues, broken homes, poverty, whacked-out parents and a revolving door of caseworkers.  These kids needed help to escape the web if they were ever to succeed and escape their tumultuous life.”

McGee Brown’s work as a juvenile judge led her to identify, with others, the need to approach the violence surrounding children in a more holistic manner.  Working with others who shared her commitment to children, she turned a vision into a reality by establishing the Center for Child and Family Advocacy.  Today, the Center works to assist hundreds of children and their families heal from the ravages of domestic violence, child abuse and other trauma. 

In all aspects of her life, McGee Brown keeps the motto “Be Here Now” as her mantra, always trying to achieve balance and focus on whatever “hat” she is wearing at the time.   Judge McGee Brown hopes that “we can all learn to speak without judgment, and to offer caring and support to those around us who may need some help.”  She has never forgotten the words from a person who appeared before her while a judge in juvenile court, “I never knew someone like you could care about someone like me.”  Often times, caring makes all the difference.

H.B. 1, the FY 2010 – 2011 Biennial Budget Bill introduced in the General Assembly on Tuesday includes cuts to programs that help fund housing for individuals with mental illness.  The Mental Health Act of 1988 reduced the population of state hospitals and promised to serve those with severe mental illness in the community.  Unfortunately, the money has not followed the clients as promised.  H.B. 1 cuts funds to the Department of Mental Health that are used to support non-Medicaid community services.  It also cuts funding to the Ohio Department of Aging’s Residential State Supplemental (RSS) program which helps pay for housing for this population.  If this budget stands, it is quite likely that hundreds of Ohio’s sickest citizens will be removed from their homes and disconnected from vital services.  We cannot allow the promises of the Mental Health Act of 1988 to be further eroded, nor can we allow those with serious mental illness to be dumped on the streets because the place they lived in was forced to close due to funding cuts!  This is a serious issue that must be brought before legislators.  Funding for community mental health services and for RSS must be restored!  Please contact your legislators today and bring this issue to their attention. 


Stigma Busting Challenge:   Have a family contest around the dinner table.  See how long it takes your family to name 20 famous people who have a mental illness.  Start with Jane Pauley, Drew Carey and Pete Wentz (ask your teenager).