Depression can be an isolating illness. Despite progress in knowledge, stigma reduction, and treatment options, it is not uncommon for someone struggling with depression—or that person’s family and friends—to feel alone. The goal of this blog series is to break through that isolation and connect the various people who play a role in any person’s depression: the person themselves, a parent or caregiver, a school counselor, a clinician, and individuals who work in policy and advocacy.
Though these specific individuals can only share their own journeys, each story is part of a larger narrative that illuminates what the entire worlds of depression and treatment can look like. The ultimate goal of this project is to share individual stories with a larger audience and to allow each stakeholder the chance to give advice to those who occupy different spaces in the journey and struggle of depression.
Each interviewee was given the choice to have their story told with their name or to remain anonymous. Those who remain anonymous have chosen to do so in order to protect the confidentiality of their friends and family whose lives intertwine with their struggles. In those cases, the interviewee’s name will be replaced with a random initial.
We welcome your thoughts and comments in our comment section! And, of course, thank you so very much to all of the brave individuals who so generously and vulnerably shared their stories with us.
Through this blog series we’ve seen the myriad of ways in which mental health work is about
collaboration and intersection; this is especially true in policy and advocacy work. Therefore, for this last post we will be sharing the ideas and experiences of two outstanding women, Carol Gall and Alli Schuck, who are working tirelessly to shape and refine the world of mental health policy in Illinois. Carol is the Executive Director of Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence agency based in Oak Park, is the Co-chair of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership’s (ICMHP) Advocacy Committee, and sits on the Illinois Suicide Prevention Alliance. Alli is the Program Associate at ICMHP, a public/private partnership in Illinois that unites policymakers, providers, advocates, and families to improve mental health care for children and adolescents; she also has a background in direct service in the field of social service. Both Carol and Alli have done an extraordinary amount of work in the fields of policy and advocacy.
Carol came to the field during her time studying social work, where she was first exposed to the important ways that direct practice and policy overlap. One, she says, cannot exist without the other. Similarly, Alli has always found a deep connection between working with clients and the policies that influence that work. She believes it is important to do compassionate, effective work with individuals, but also to do expansive work in the community that benefits society.
Both women have seen mental health policy change for the better over time. Even still, Carol describes the children’s mental health movement in its infant stages where we are beginning to see real change beginning to happen and where transformational conversations are starting to have an impact. She describes Illinois as a leader in the field, and as a state that has accomplished significant policy reformation. Though these are processes that, at times, take many years, being able to see laws and policies come to fruition that she and her colleagues were a part of writing—such as modifications to the Illinois Insurance Code to provide more equal access and insurance coverage for mental health care— is hugely rewarding. And it is a constant process: even when the laws passed are strong, Carol says that they need to be revisited so that they can be continually strengthened. Alli describes interesting policies within organizational practices that are great wins for mental health care, such as increased screenings for depression in young fathers, which can both lead to better care and stronger parent-child relationships in families where an individual is experiencing depression.
We can help draft and pass great policies and laws, but their success depends on having available and sustainable funding and services needed to implement them. By being able to increase programming and preventive services, we can hopefully have a future full of supportive policies coupled with the funding, services, and practices needed to make those ideas into reality. Ideally, Carol says we need not only funding, but also a wider awareness of mental health and mental illnesses. She says that we often treat only those among us who are most debilitated by their mental illness; if we can find ways to include everyone struggling with a mental illness—and those people supporting them—in those prevention and support efforts, we can help even more people and prevent the attenuating impacts of chronic mental illnesses.
Alli emphasizes the need for comprehensive and holistic care that can be taught to everyone at every stage of life; mental health can be a community goal. By holistic, Alli means that mental illnesses do not occur in a vacuum: they are the results of an accumulation of effects internally, externally, and systemically. In a perfect world, we would understand those factors, and make and implement policies that acknowledge them. For example, policies could address access to housing and other basic necessities and work to end the systemic oppression and violence that can lead to situational depression. Policy can also work to promote screening and early intervention for mental illnesses, as well as promoting and providing treatment.
This work requires a vast array of people who really care about making mental health policy better. Carol says that the first step in policy creation is figuring out what your goal is and how you can get there in a way that lets others buy-in to that process. This is ever-evolving and built around intentional work, compromise, and figuring out how to achieve your own goals while advocating for change that is broad enough to be supported by others. At the end of the day, it requires remembering that even if we have the same goals, we might come to them in different ways; the opinions of others have to be acknowledged, respected, and taken into consideration.
For Alli, a potential pitfall is that even with the best intentions, policies can often cause problems or fall short of their goals without the input of those individuals who have lived through the experiences the policies are working to address. The efforts of collaborative partnerships like the ICMHP are critical because they make sure people with lived experience are at the table and are given the chance to share their perspectives. This, says Alli, is the best way to make sure that policies are broad-reaching enough to be comprehensive, while also allowing for the individualized experiences of those who are impacted by the policies. Each lived reality is unique, which is why Carol also emphasizes the need to bring as many of those voices into the mix as possible. From day one, Alli says, the right people have to be at the table. Even with really hard work done at the front end to include everyone, robust reassessment is needed to make sure that the policies are being enacted in the ways they are intended and in ways that are maximally beneficial. Luckily, policies can be reworked and new voices can be heard to update and improve policies along the way.
Policy can also help to minimize stigma. When awareness and prevention efforts are put forth, stigma is reduced, and more mental health issues find their way into legislation. More and more research is coming out establishing the importance of early intervention and getting people care more quickly. It is the job of advocates, says Alli, to help policy reflect that research. When early and effective treatment are supported, individuals can to live healthy, productive lives and less stigma will surround mental health conditions. If we keep talking about these issues and the strides that are being made, we can continue to create a mental health care system that works for and is understood by everyone. _______________________________________________________________________
What Carol and Alli Want You to Know…
What should a young adult/child know?
Carol & Alli: You are not alone!
What would you want a parent to know?
Carol: There are so many supports and services available. They are sometimes hard to find, but they are out there and they can help. There will be times when it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is why you should try to find a support network of people who have gone through the same struggles you have and have made it through to the other side. Let them be the hope for you that it’s sometimes hard to have for yourself.
Alli: It is okay to talk about your struggles. You don’t have to tell everybody, but finding the right people to talk to can be a huge relief, just by speaking the few words that bridge the gap between your experience and the people who can and want to help.
What would you want a school counselor/social worker to know?
Carol: You play such an integral role by supporting students and their families. Helping parents and their children to navigate the many systems of support can be challenging, but is so important. I hope that you feel empowered because you are making a huge impact.
Alli: You are an important liaison between policymakers and what is happening on the ground. You see how things are working and how policies are impacting students and parents; your voice is and should be so important in the conversations happening around policy. The change you make is visible both for individual students and for the climate of mental health as a whole.
What would you want a therapist/clinician to know?
Alli: By working on the front lines and seeing what people are going through, you have such an important perspective that should be part of policymaking. Please engage in this part of your role, even if the changes you want to see take a long time to come about.
Carol: Find ways to stay engaged with advocacy and policy making. You have a large stake in the process and have seen the limitations of policy; there are people who want to listen to you and learn from your experiences and expertise and have you be part of this process!
What would you want another policy advocate/policy maker to know?
Carol & Alli: Don’t give up!
Carol: This is what we need to be doing and we have to keep going. Good policy is so important to form a strong base for all the work that happens in this field and we need strong voices to keep moving this work forward.
Alli: All voices matter and we need to keep that in mind as we work towards positive change.
For more information about the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, visit: www.icmhp.org or follow them on Facebook.
For more information about Sarah’s Inn, visit: http://www.sarahsinn.org/en/ or follow them on Facebook and Instragram.
We hope you have enjoyed this series. The goal was to give our readers insight on what the climate and culture of the mental health world is today, whether that be in your home or in a medical or legal setting. To catch up on the parts of the series you may have missed, visit our blog today.