On Thurs, Nov. 12 in Laird Hall, guest speakers talked about their mental illnesses, their past experiences, and how they recovered. The three speakers, Martha Nolder, Karen Scott, and Kim Wertz, are all from the Mental Health Association of Franklin and Fulton Counties (MHAFF).
The event was hosted by the Psychology Club and Martha Nolder who, in her introductory speech, explained what a stigma is and how it could lead to discrimination and prejudice. She also explained that most mental illness patients deal with stigma on a daily basis. For example, most people assume that depression is just being sad and telling someone that they can get over it easily. A mental illness is not something that can be overcome so easily or fixed.
Karen Scott, a member of MHAFF for four years, lives with Bipolar Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), noted that her depression formed when she was younger. Later in life, she was in an abusive relationship for ten years and began to have thoughts of suicide. An example she gave of suicidal thoughts was: “Everyone’s better off without me.” She then went to see a therapist for ten years, but stopped seeing him when he passed away.
Scott visited four other therapists before finding one she was comfortable with. Now she fights her suicidal thoughts so she can be there for her grandchildren.
“Don’t suffer alone, talk to someone,” says Scott. “Things might look bleak today, but it’ll get better tomorrow.”
Kim Wertz is a woman dealing with severe depression and is transgender. She said as a child she always wanted to hang out with the girls. She also took over the household when her mother passed away, but when her father died she had lost her sense of purpose.
“Transgenders have a 41% rate of suicide,” says Wertz.
Wertz wanted to stop living a lie and decided to come out as transgendered in 2005 to her friends and family, although her cousin did not seem to accept it. On the other hand, her friends accepted her for who she is, although they did not really understand why she was doing it.
“My cousin, on the other hand, started throwing bible verses at me to try and change me,” she explained as she continued her story.
She then ran into financial problems. As a result, her depression started to increase and she began contemplating suicide. Wertz was admitted to Chambersburg hospital six times and two of those times she attempted suicide.
She has a support system and has gained coping skills. “I have thoughts of suicide every now and then, but I do not plan on ever attempting it again,” she stated.
The last speaker to talk about their experience was Martha Nolder. She is a peer specialist with a BA in Fine Arts. She was diagnosed with Bipolar II, which means she has had at least one or two hypomanic episodes. A hypomanic episode is when the patient is in a very irritable mood and it is different than their usual mood.
“I was the result of a one night stand, and I am biracial,” Nolder stated as she started her story. She was at a foster home for four months after she was born and was later adopted. Her depression manifested when she was ten years old when she moved away from her home town.
Her adoptive brother, a drug addict, was verbally abusive towards her and would often fight with their mother. When she went to college she saw a school therapist to help her cope, but she also resorted to alcohol and cutting. That is when she knew she needed therapy.
“I had an episode at work, and got fired for it,” she explained. She started to avoid people, had thoughts of suicide and harming herself. She sought out help again and her life improved when she began taking medications. She got a job and now she wants to help people.
“I want to help people,” she stated. “And I want to let them know that life is worth living.”
These ladies were brave enough to tell their stories and it is wrong to judge them for their mental illnesses. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than men and the most common disorder is depression.
For more information on the MHAFF, go to http://mhaff.org/.