‎Mary Nichelson‎ to April Fuller Sasser 4 hrs · From BBC News: A ‪#‎MentalHealthTaskforce‬ report for NHS England has revealed almost 75% of people with mental health problems have received no help at all. http://bbc.in/1QgiJxX They ask this question and I would be interested in hearing your answer: How can attitudes to mental health conditions be improved and what should be done to advance care?

Mrs. Mary thank you for asking me about this subject that is so poignantly close to my heart. I would be happy to have dialogue with you about my situation, concerns and recovery.

I personally feel and know first hand for a fact that most individuals do not step forward when they feel they suffer from a mental illness due to stigma and hatred. They also fear abandonment and rejection from family and friends. They are also aware of everything that they may lose in the process of trying to get the help they so desperately need such as their homes,families, children, personal belongings, livliehood and freedoms along with any sanity they may have left in them that keeps them pressing onward and forward from day to day. A lot like a domestic violence victim in my opinion.

I have taken and taught many classes on mental health self -recovery through View Point Health and have recently graduated the Certified Peer Specialist Training program through The Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network and The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. I have worked the last 18 months as a nursing assistant to the physically and mentally challenged and elderly and will now in my future be working as a CPS.


1300+ Georgia Certified Peer Specialists Since October 2001

I am a very proud graduate of the CPS program and look forward to working closely with the mentally challenged on a daily basis.

I personally myself would have never thought that I had a mental illness until it surfaced during a family violence incident that occurred in August of 2004. I presented to Northside Hospital emergency room for treatment from family violence and the staff reported the incident to the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office who in return closed the battery charge two weeks later due to not being able to locate me. I was still in the hospital at the time being treated for a diagnosis of marital abuse, marital discord, depression and Codependency as the caregiver and enabler to Mr. Sasser my ex – husband. I have never had addictive diseases in my history but have been the caregiver and enabler to many. I was kept from my children due to receiving services at Peachford Hospital for the abuse, depression and codependency. In the beginning in 2004 I was not allowed to see my 4 girls due to having a “mental condition” according to divorce paperwork. Which there was never any evidence presented of a “mental condition” or the truth of the facts until a much later date when I personally Pro Se would petition the court for a ruling on said issue of custody and visitation due to being kept from them. I have never had a single question, hint, suggestion, implication nor accusation as to any wrong doing on my behalf as a mother nor as a wife in court or any forum for that matter. I knew I was a domestic violence victim but never dreamed that I also suffered mentally.

I have been in recovery for over 11 years now to present date and have became a huge advocate for the mentally challenged and family violence victims alike.

People do not come forward for help for fear of being frowned upon by family and friends and the stigma and hatred attached to being diagnosed with a mental illness. I personally have suffered the loss of life and love of several close family members and best friends due to my diagnosis as if they think I have some sort of highly contagious disease that will hurt them or make them look bad for continuing to love and support me.

When one feels suicidal ideation or thoughts you feel all alone and worthless, helpless and useless to yourself and to the world. There is typically no reaching you from the outside or from outsiders. You have to reach yourself and gain control of your life on your own terms. No one can do it for you and with feelings of depression, sadness often times anger and resentment along with abandonment and rejection you will often times crawl into a shell or curl up in the fetal position and cry yourself to sleep uncontrollably and not reach out for help. So it goes undetected and untreated.

Once you do step forward you face the stigma, hatred and bullying that is detached with having a mental illness diagnosis. You face demeaning and belittling minds telling you how crazy you are or you are in the nut house.

I finally some months later after initial diagnosis accepted the fact that I as a college educated young single mother had a mental illness diagnosis and began cooperating with my private psychiatrist and therapists and myself reading and educating myself as much as possible on mental illness. The sad thing is that mental illness factually should be treated as any other illness such as  a heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and so forth but it is not. You are selectively thrown into an unknown world of darkness and unacceptance by the world and those you associate with.

I have since had much success in the courtroom in The Alcovy Judicial Circuit pertaining to my girls but not until I was surrounded by staff that are familiar with and work closely with mental illness on  a daily basis. The staff of the Mental Health Courts of The Alcovy Judicial Circuit who have experience with domestic violence and mental illness.

Sadly but true most law enforcement officers, attorney’s, clergy and even doctors at times are not aware of the capabilities of a mentally challenged individual and do not understand mental illness at all. In my experience they would rather shove you around or sedate you instead of talk to you and get to know you and just how successful and artistic most who suffer from mental illness truly are and that recovery is possible where growth is encouraged and can flourish.

I feel that law enforcement officers, attorney’s, clergy and Judge’s along with nurses need to be  brought up to speed on mental illness and how one can recovery given the right environment and belief fostered in themselves to strive and thrive for self – recovery. Training these individuals would be time well invested in our community. As I plan and hope to work closer with The Mental Health Courts of The Alcovy Judicial Circuit given I have now graduated the CPS program I hope to bring to light the fact that I have felt every shove and heard every word and tasted every ounce of stigma and hatred and / or sedation that I have undergone due to non understanding and non compassionate, uneducated or incompetent individuals who would rather make you feel guilty and shameful than help you pick yourself up.

Fortunately for me I have had close ties with the staff of the Mental Health Courts and have had much success in the courtroom regarding my 4 girls. I have never been a client of the Mental Health Courts but have worked closely with the staff. Who have restored my faith in government and in humanity. For without them I would be nothing today.

When you enter the doors of a mental or psychiatric institution you are not sedated or put in a gown or into bed. You possess and have your own clothing, make – up, books, journaling materials, cafeteria time for meals and creative arts and recovery classes that you attend learning of self help. Georgia Regional here in Atlanta is not that up scale and one can truly suffer from being in the care of this facility as they have had much incident of accident and death over my course of recovery from mental illness over the last 11 years but I have had much success being a patient at Peachford and continuing in private therapy with the director of Peachford as my personal psychiatrist that I still see today who set me on my way to adult coloring over 11 years ago that turned into journaling and then to my WordPress blog onto now being a full time blogger for over 4 years at The Covington News in Covington, GA where I share in many of my days events and time spent in the community as I have blossomed in the face of adversity and spent countless hours involved in community events.


I have been fortunate that I have had many great mentors to cross my life’s path and have had the staff of the Mental Health Court’s support since the very beginning. Up to and including not only the Superior Court’s but the Juvenile Court’s full favor as well in The Alcovy Judicial Circuit.

There are 5 stages to Recovery and one must learn these in order to recover. You must be in an environment that teaches you recovery and supports your daily activities and helps you flourish and to maintain stability as you grow in your community.

5 Stages of Recovery

Impact of Illness – The person feels overwhelmed by the diagnosis and symptoms. The person begins to redefine his identity in mental illness terminology. Reduce the symptoms and show that there is life after diagnosis.

Life is Limited – The person gives herself over to the diagnosis/ system. The person is unable or unwilling to see any possibilities. Explore and expose person to possibilities and re build self esteem.

Change is possible – The person is beginning to question how limited their life really is. The person may become too afraid to take risks. Help the person explore the costs and benefits of taking risks.

Commitment to change – The person has decided to risk stepping out of his comfort zone. The person may not have supports needed to succeed. Help the person identify his skills that assist and support his recovery.

Actions for change – The person is ready to move beyond the system. The person may fear responsibility and believe he cannot survive without the system. Support and assist the person to utilize his skills, strengths and gifts to move beyond.

One must find someone who is willing to ignite that small and fragile flame of hope and courage.

As studying the WRAP Wellness Recovery Action Plan one must possess hope, personal responsibility, education, self – advocacy and have supports along with getting good health and medication management.

One must be taught and learn how to identify triggers and have an action plan. You must be able to identity early warning signs that things are breaking down and have an action plan. You must maintain crisis planning and post crisis planning.

Most with mental illness have self – determination as I do which includes freedom, authority and responsibility. These are the 3 principles of self – determination.

There are 10 factors of personal health that must be maintained which include :

Stress Management, healthy eating, physical activity, restful sleep, service to others, support network, optimism based on positive expectations, cognitive skill to avoid negative thinking, spiritual beliefs and practices along with a sense of meaning and purpose.

One must learn how to solve personal problems and a helpful guide is PICBA:

Problem – State the problem as clearly as possible.

Impact – Identify how the person is impacting the situation

Cost/Benefit – Explore the Costs and Benefits

Brainstorm – Coming up with ideas identifying options

Actions – know that time is limited

You must have those in your life willing to use effective listening in order to help you with the mental illness diagnosis. Effective listening has to do with knowing what we are listening for. The art of asking questions and igniting the “Spark of Hope.”

When igniting the “Spark of Hope” one must identify the following:

Interest, Cost/Benefit, actions that the person is able to do to get started, what the individual needs help with such as looking for something that will require new skill and strong supports. Explore the persons support network.

Some actions that mentors would benefit from include areas related to diversity competence such as awareness and recognizing differences, knowledge and learning about the patient and different cultures, skills and taking responsibility for the way you respond to differences, action and behavior should include be aware, be sensitive and have and set boundaries.

In order for others to effectively communicate with those suffering from a mental illness one must observe and affirm the others position, values and concerns. Relate the others position, values and concerns to your experience as a consumer, offer a we statement that acknowledges the common ground and promotes partnership in creating another way of doing things.

System beliefs that work against recovery include: prejudice, negative messages and negative body language and being intrinsic such as what’s wrong instead of what’s right. System beliefs that work for recovery include : hope, shared lived experiences and interdependence and whole health management.

One must have and be shown Hope and Recovery. Hope is the belief that one has both the ability and the opportunity to engage in the recovery process. Recovery is the process of gaining control over one’s life and the direction one wants that life to go on the others side of a psychiatric diagnosis and all of the losses usually associated with the diagnosis.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness comes with the crushing of ones hopes and dreams, denial, despair, anguish and low self – esteem.

I have also experienced all of these feelings and have recovered and have become a graduate of New Rock through View Point Health along with being a graduate of The Respect Institute of Georgia and GPSI now with being a graduate of the Certified Peer Specialist training program to sit for exam in March and have already begun interviewing for positions as a CPS.

I am also an online member of Mental Health Justice Community at :


I feel that instead of acting out in rage, anger or hatred I have made a positive impact in my community and in the O.C.G.A. for family violence victims, those parentally alienated, the mentally challenged and reunification process for those who may have lost contact with their children due to a system that does not understand nor comprehend family violence and mental illness.. I have been fortunate to have been blessed over the last 11 plus years with the staff of The Mental Health Courts of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit who have also played a key role in my life as I have lived my life under great scrutiny for my children in and outside the courtroom.

I hope to teach many in my community about the importance of avoiding stigma and hate and how to properly treat an individual with a mental illness as opposed to shoving them around or just sedating them.

I am also in a ladies step study program through Celebrate Recovery Eastridge and have made application for Stephen Ministry that I will be attending in the fall of this year.

I would be nothing without the support of View Point Health, my private psychiatrist the director of Peachford and the Mental Health Courts along with Esquire Mr. Matt Ledbetter who has fought for me and my girls right by my side every moment to success.

A skill that I have been taught is to Catch it, Check it, Change it! Everyone has negative thoughts and negative self – talk. Negative thoughts and negative self talk is not the problem. The problem is when it spirals downward and we end up defining ourselves in absolute permanent negative language. Learn to Catch it early on. This involves knowing when you are moving from fact to story. Check it against what is actually going on. Stick with the facts. Change it to reflect what the facts are. I have gained a great knowledge and much success with the help of The Appalachian Consulting Group, Inc who wrote the material and manual for the Certified Peer Specialist Training program.

Everyone has the ability to learn and grow. Being diagnosed with a mental illness does not take away the ability to learn and grow; people can recover and move on with their lives.

People’s beliefs determine their behavior. What a person believes about himself, because he is diagnosed with a mental illness is the most important determinant of his success in creating the life he wants.

People think their way through life. Being diagnosed with a mental illness does not take away the ability to think strategically and creatively.

Whatever people focus on, they give power to. While symptoms and disability bring people in for services, the focus needs to shift to wellness and strengths as soon as possible. Life’s experiences are the best teacher. Your recovery experience is your greatest gift to your peers.

When people diagnosed with a mental illness begin to work in the mental health system as a peer specialist, recovery is accelerated in three ways. The Peer Specialists’ recovery is strengthened. Peer Specialists help others recover and Peer Specialists help the agency and / or system to recover.

Thank you Mrs. Mary Nichelson for asking of my opinion pertaining to mental health as I have shared my story with many including the Mayor of Covington and many peers along with worked closely and side by side with the Mental Health Courts over the last 11 plus years being accountable and responsible for myself and my children.

Now to carry my education into my community and hopefully with my family and friends. I thank you for your consistent prayer and support.




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