Voices of Mental Illness

People with mental illness have many different stories to tell – of suffering and despair, but also of courage, resilience, hope, and generosity. These individuals have learned to live with a complex illness, and to do so with grace and pride. Listen to their voices; learn and understand.

Christine Ross

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Christine attended USC and Cal State Northridge.  After she experienced periods of hearing voices and feeling delusions, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalized several times.  Christine began to recover with the support of psychiatrists and therapists, and she additionally overcame a period of homelessness.  At a social worker’s recommendation, she became involved with NAMI, whose support helped Christine further understand her illness.  Today, Christine is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselor, and she dreams of owning a sober living facility.  She also loves speaking, and she has volunteered with “In Our Own Voice” since 2007.  Asked what she would like the public to understand about people with mental illness, she says, “We’re people. We’re people with a bigger hurt at the time, but we are people with feelings. Just because you may have seen someone on Skid Row and you may have seen someone down on their luck…they’re human…There’s a beautiful person inside each and every one of us.”

Ross transcript

Frank Baron

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Frank grew up in Los Angeles, graduating from Fairfax High School and receiving an engineering degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. After serving with the U.S. Navy for three years and volunteering in Yemen with the Peace Corps, Frank returned to the U.S. and began working as a civil engineer in Orange County. During this time, he began experiencing hallucinations and periods of depression. After several psychiatric hospitalizations, he found a medication that worked well for him. With the help of psychiatrists at the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles, medication, and other support, Frank thrives as a leading mental health advocate with NAMI and as a member of the L.A. County Mental Health Commission. He explains that mental illness can “really happen to anybody, and once realized that, I realized I really would try to do as mental health advocacy as I could for the rest of my life. I’m committed to this for the rest of my life.”

Baron transcript

Gerald Bautista

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Gerald began experiencing symptoms while in high school in the Philippines.  When he began to have significant trouble sleeping, he went to several hospitals, eventually seeing a psychiatrist and receiving medication for his bipolar and schizoaffective disorders.  After moving to Los Angeles, he learned about the L.A. County Asian-Pacific Clinic, where he now receives medication and counseling.  Gerald volunteers with the peer-run Project Return call-in support line, the Warm Line.  He enjoys working in a place where people understand his experience and where he can make a difference.  Says Gerald, “being at work, everybody is in the same boat as I am, helps big time. I feel like I’m able to contribute to the society somehow and…able to and accepted for how I am, too, at the same time.”

Transcript

Mariko Okumoto

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Mariko was working as a nurse when she began feeling depressed and hearing voices.  She was soon diagnosed with schizophrenia, and over the next several years, Mariko was repeatedly hospitalized.  At a doctor’s suggestion, she began visiting an Asian mental health clinic, whose cultural understanding helped her.  Twenty-five years after receiving a diagnosis, Mariko found a dosage of medication and a therapist that work well for her.  She also benefits from peer support, and she currently works at Project Return supervising support group leaders.  Explaining the importance of self-help, Mariko quotes a friend from Project Return: “‘No matter anybody says, you know what your illness is.  You have to work on it. No matter what the doctor says, you can do it, and have faith and try.  No matter how long it takes, you can do it…’  So I live by that, and it took a long time, but I’m there now.”

Okumoto Transcript

Niki Davis

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Niki grew up with a love of learning and a love of art.  When she was still a teenager, she received a diagnosis of manic depression (today, bipolar disorder), and she benefitted from the care of a therapist and psychiatrist.  Shortly after graduating from college, she was hospitalized for the first time, and over the next 20 years, Niki struggled with depression and the side effects of medications.  Through her mother’s advocacy and the support of a small organization in Los Angeles, Niki began to rediscover her passions, and she received help for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with which she was also diagnosed.  Today, with ongoing support based in the recovery model, Niki continues to work as an artist, and she volunteers with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Glendale and with NAMI.  Describing her recovery, she observes, “…there is this other self in me that has nothing to do with storms, or traumas or how my things happen, that to me…have much more flavor and a bigger key to recovery than my treatment steps, and it was getting those things back...”

Transcript

Sanjeet Sihota

Interviewed by: Katie Cadigan

Sanjeet was a student at UCSB when he became ill.  After leaving school, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and was hospitalized several times during the next four years.  He struggled with the side effects of medication, with memory impairments, and with the pain of having been diverted from his dreams.  A year later, he began visiting a program called the Life Adjustment Team in Culver City.  With the support of their psychosocial rehabilitation programs and the dedication of the staff, Sanjeet began to move toward recovery.  Describing the support of a particularly committed staff member, Sanjeet explains, “These illnesses can be so traumatic, and that type of connection is needed to give hope to the person just to start to try again. So, he offered me the type of relationship was more than just his job. He was able to convey that ‘I care about you as a human being. I believe in you so much.’”  During this time, Sanjeet volunteered at a senior health center, and he soon enrolled at Santa Monica College.  After transferring to UCLA, he graduated with a B.A. in psychology, and he received his Master of Social Work at USC.  Sanjeet is currently a social worker in private practice.

Sihota transcript