Tag: empowerment

Mental Illness: “In Our Own Voice”

Woman raising arms with confidence
Woman raising arms with confidence


Mental or emotional problems are the fourth leading cause of disability in the United States.1 Most people with mental illness can see real improvements with the right treatment. Some mental illnesses are even preventable. Unfortunately, access to services is a big problem. Adding to that, we are often afraid of people with mental illness because of stereotypes shown in the news. A general lack of information, especially when it comes to treatment and recovery, also plays into this fear.

Uncovering Mental Illness

Last spring, I had saw a presentation called “In Our Own Voice” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Local NAMI chapters run this program in their communities, often at high schools and colleges. Each presentation is led by two people in recovery from a serious mental illness. They aim to reduce the fear and stigma linked to mental illness by sharing their experience.

“In Our Own Voice” is broken up into five segments:

  • Dark days (the hardest part of their struggle with mental illness)
  • Acceptance (how they learned to accept their mental illness as an important step on their path to recovery)
  • Treatment (the specific treatment plans that have worked for them)
  • Coping Strategies (strategies that have helped them achieve and maintain mental wellness)
  • Successes, hopes, and dreams (reflections on success and goals for the future)

Each segment starts with a video clip of several people with mental illness telling their stories. NAMI presenters pause the video in between each segment and share their own stories.

My Experience

“In Our Own Voice” was an eye-opening and uplifting presentation. I noticed that everyone had a unique story, but there were many common themes. For example, most had a hard time accepting their illness. It was also really hard for them to find the right providers, medications or therapies. Finding the right plan often took years of trying doctors and treatments that didn’t work. Some struggled with family relationships and lost those relationships altogether. Many found the unconditional love of a pet to be really valuable. Everyone had successes to share and hope for the future.

I felt that the program empowered the audience with new perspective. We also had the rare opportunity of being able to ask any questions we had about mental illness in a setting where this was encouraged and expected. It was clear that the presentation also empowers the NAMI presenters because they know that they are making a difference by sharing their stories. As awareness spreads, hopefully this will lead to better access to services and more people can live in recovery.

More information about the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the “In Our Own Voice” program.

1 Brault, M. Americans with disabilities: 2005, current population reports, P70-117, Washington, DC: US Census Bureau; 2008.

A Caregiver’s View of Adult Family Care

The dictionary definition of “caregiver” is “an unpaid relative or friend of a disabled individual who helps that individual with his or her activities of daily living.” Statistics show that as many as one in five adults in the US are caregivers.

Many people provide care giving services with nothing more that the motivation of their heart, yet sometimes it is because there is no other way for a loved one to get care. And even though so many of us are doing the work, being a caregiver remains a very stressful and lonely thing to do. Where do you go for help? Who will pay your bills if you need to stop working to be a caregiver? Where do you call if you get sick? Who can you call with your concerns? What will happen to your family member if something happens to you?

Support for caregivers is available

As a member of the National Family Caregivers Association, our Adult Family Care program is particularly equipped to help caregivers through the stressful aspects of their work. So much more than training and networking, being a part of an AFC program gives caregivers an outlet for their concerns and essential support. Of course there is the required training, and plenty of opportunities for networking and learning more. However, nothing tops the opportunity for face to face contact over a cup of coffee. That is what George’s parents’ discovered.

George with his parents“Caring for George when he returned from his day program was becoming harder and harder as his needs were changing” George’s mother Aurora told us. “We knew he needed more support than we could give him. But ‘how’ and ‘who to turn to’ were questions we did not know how to ask”.

Aurora shares their family’s story

“We attended an AFC workshop and right away started working with Kathy Kopitsky to see if we would qualify for services. The enrollment process seemed to take many months. Now, with greater financial assistance, George will begin to receive added support and services. And for us, we will have the help we need to keep George at home. We know that a day will come when we can no longer care for George, but for now, his home is with us, and this fills us with great happiness.”

Next week’s blog will provide a list of resources for Adult Family Care Programs. Check it out. After all, everyone needs nurturing and support, especially if they are providing care for others.

Losing Weight: A New Year Resolution for All

With the holidays behind us and the last of the Christmas cookies gone, I begin the New Year thinking about the need to lose weight. For those of you who feel like they overdid it during the holidays, you may also be trying to find the motivation to get started.

For some, the simple fact that your clothing doesn’t fit and you can’t wear sweatpants to work may be enough. For others, it may be a need to face the year ahead in better health; energy is a good thing and losing weight always makes you feel better.

It doesn’t matter what motivates you, but the point is everyone needs some type of motivation to actually lose the weight and not just think about it. This approach is important for everyone; including people with disabilities.

Everyone needs their own reason

When I think back to all the Individual Service Plan (ISP) meetings I have attended over the years, I realize how often we tell people with disabilities they need to lose weight but we don’t help them figure out why they should want to.

That isn’t right, is it?

If someone told you today to lose weight you may agree it’s a good idea, but you need to find your own reasons to actually do so.

Personal motivation leads to success

Next week we will introduce Nora McShane who lost 63 pounds on Weight Watchers. In the weeks that follow we will also hear from Ashley Poor and Carolyn Wellington who supported Nora in the process.

Nora found her own motivation and lost weight because of it, not because it was in her ISP and someone told her to do so. As you read the blogs this month, think about a person with a disability you know who wants to lose weight but may need help in finding their own personal reasons to do so.

It may help to start with your own.

My motivation this year is fitting into a nice dress for my son’s wedding.

What’s yours?

Ten Great Websites to Keep You Informed

Ready to get involved?

The following  6 website links will keep you educated on bills, community issues and state government throughout the year.

1. Where To Vote & to Locate Your Legislators will identify your elected officials and voting location.

2. Massachusetts Legislative Bills & Laws offers information on existing bills and laws in Massachusetts.

3. Massachusetts on Ballotpedia provides nonpartisan information on Massachusetts ballot news.

4. Congress.org provides information on public policy issues of the day and tips on effective advocacy. Sign up to get their weekly newsletter and an email of your representative’s vote on recent bills.

5. OpenCongress.org lets you know what’s happening in Congress by providing  official government data and news coverage.

6. League of Women Voters/Mass is a well respected citizens’ organization that encourages community involvement and hosts political forums in various communities.

For Disability Issues, these links are all helpful.

1. arcmass.org Take advantage of what Arc has to offer  to stay informed.

Sign up on their listserv and the Action E-List on Massachusetts Arc Legislative Action Center to be notified when you can make a critical difference on important state issues.

2. Impacted by Recent Cuts to Disability Services? Know Your Rights is a handy resourceful guide provided by Arc MASS

3. Mass Families Organizing for Change sponsors conferences, workshops and forums to educate individuals and community members about advocacy, services and local, state and federal resources.

4. Disability Policy Consortium members have access to advocacy training, lobbying leadership, legislative email alert service, and information on issues of importance. Check out their weekly updates on website.

Be sure to share your favorites with us.

Becoming a Leader in Your Community

Last week we were inspired by John, this week it continues with Andrea.

Andrea Kelly is a civic leader in Newton who has been actively involved with the League of Women Voters since the mid 80’s. Andrea is making a difference.

Getting Started

We discussed how she first became involved.

“I was home on maternity leave and was looking for something to do. A friend of mine told me about the League of Women Voters, so I signed up for their monthly newsletter to learn what was happening in Newton,” at that time a bedroom community to Andrea.

The newsletter presented many local issues and ways of being involved, one being observing the Aldermanic Land Use committee. It got her attention, an easy commitment of only two monthly meetings.

So she joined, and began her path to becoming educated.

Educated and involved

As we discussed the League and the role it has played in her life, Andrea described it with passion.

“The League is the only multi-issue, non-partisan, volunteer advocacy group in the community that educates people on an array of  issues.”

For Andrea, that comprehensive education provided opportunities to become involved well beyond land use.

“I became interested in affordable housing and joined the Newton Housing Partnership. As I became connected locally, I was appointed to the Design Review Committee that reviews all projects in the city.” child care and education also became dominant topics during the years her children were in those age groups.

We discussed other ways to become educated and involved.

“Some of the most active civic organizations in our community include churches and synagogues. They address social issues locally, but also on a national and international basis. ”

A leader emerges

In listening to Andrea, I began to realize that she had truly become a leader, respected not only because of her intelligence, but because she was passionate and obviously capable of getting things done.

“When I became an affordable housing advocate, I saw NIMBY (not in my backyard) from people in my own community. While it was frustrating, I quickly understood I had to take a deep breath and realize this was an opportunity for education, rather than becoming oppositional.”

That’s what can happen when you get involved. You learn patience, because change isn’t easy. You learn communication because you really need to listen to both sides. . . And in the process you may find you’ve become a respected leader.

So get involved; the community needs you.

Choosing to Stay Involved in Your Community

This week I introduce John Anton, a self-advocate who is an inspiration to others as he works hard to make a difference in his local and statewide community.

I sent the following questions to John about his role as a civic activist; he and his support advisor, Fran Hogan sent the answers.

John, please tell us about yourself.

“I am a Legislative Intern for State Representative Tom Sannicandro and a Legislative Advocate and Mentor at The Arc of Greater Haverhill/Newburyport. I am also on the Disability Law Center Board, a member of the Haverhill Trails Committee and am active in my church.”

How did you first become interested in issues in your community?

“When I graduated from high school I went to a sheltered workshop. We didn’t have enough work to do and it was very boring. I got jobs at fast food places and Market Basket, but I didn’t fit into any of these jobs either. Employment for me and other people with disabilities became one of my first issues. Transportation was also important because it was difficult for all of us.”

Tell us about your role as a legislative intern at the state house.

“I go to hearings, read bills and research what will affect individuals and families when budget cuts are made. Then I share this information with other self-advocates who follow up with phone calls, emails and visits to legislators when needed.”

How do you choose the issues you want to be involved in?

“It’s hard because they are all important. What helps is studying the state budget and seeing where funding cuts will affect services.
When I was chairperson for Mass Advocates Standing Strong (a statewide self-advocacy group), the issues of transportation, employment, closing institutions, guardianship, and self-determination all became important to me and they still are.”

Why should people be involved?

“You should want to be involved because your voice and your vote count (link to video in new window with John and others talking about importance of voting). Tax cuts affect everyone, especially people with disabilities and their families. If services are cut, individuals may have to stay home and family members will need to quit their jobs to take care of them. If you understand what is happening, you can do something about it.”

What are the best ways for people to be involved?

“Join a self-advocacy group or state-wide committee, attend conferences, volunteer in your community, and research things you are interested in on the Internet. It is also important that your legislators and local officials know who you are.
With the elections over, I will be organizing other advocates to join me in contacting the new legislators and educating them on what is important to individuals with disabilities. We also need to ask them how to work together in the future to make positive changes for everyone.”

Inspired yet?

Empowerment: The Ultimate Gift for the Holidays

Colorful Holiday Gifts

As the holidays approach, we are all faced with the challenge of how to spread joy without overwhelming people with a multitude of donations.

After all, giving is part of the holiday experience, right? And giving to people in need of assistance is especially rewarding as we envision them opening their gifts during the holidays and realizing that people truly care.

Yet as we look at holiday assistance programs, we want you to think about how you can use the generosity of the holidays to really make a difference in a person’s life long after the season ends.

Think about it.

Giving someone a meal during the holidays is a good thing, but if we don’t follow up with a budget plan and perhaps a food stamp application, that same individual may go hungry during the winter.

The importance of giving people control

birch in winter

We will begin next week by presenting an interview with Angela, a woman who shares her personal experience with a holiday assistance program that didn’t end in December. In fact, they assisted her in setting personal goals that have truly made an impact on her life and the lives of her children.

Listen to her words and think about all the people you know who may receive holiday assistance this year and what they would say if asked the same questions.

I think most people would tell you they appreciate the gifts and goodwill, but they would really appreciate it if you could help them take control of their own life.

So maybe next year they could be donating a gift to someone else.

Make sense?