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NAMI Diversity and Inclusion Work Group Members Share Personal Perspectives in Honor of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Recovery for All
July 2011

We are pleased to present a collection of five personal statements demonstrating the importance of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The stories below showcase the perspectives and experiences of five members of NAMI’s Diversity and Inclusion Work Group. If you are interested in sharing your own story in honor of this special month, take a look at the  personal story-writing guide, our newest resource for this special month. Click the following titles to jump to each story.

"Peace and Balance through Integration of Culture in Recovery" by Jimi Kelley, chair of the NAMI Diversity and Inclusion Work Group<

"Si Hay Esperanza...Si Se Puede! (Yes, There Is Hope…Yes We Can!)" by John Fruttero

"My Story of Recovery" by Ron Morton

"Affirming and Managing My Identity" by Gareth Fenley

"Diversity and Inclusion in My Hometown" by Julia Ann Tate


Peace and Balance through Integration of Culture in Recovery 

by Jimi Kelley, chair of the NAMI Diversity and Inclusion Work GroupImage

My mother’s family is from the Arkansas bands of Quapaw and Cherokee and I was raised in a military family and currently live in Nashville, Tenn.

As a Native American living with bipolar disorder the focus of my work is with tribal communities who are facing mental and emotional health concerns.

During my teens I began experiencing thoughts and emotions that felt very foreign to me and caused me great distress. Receiving very little attention from family members and local counselors in regards to these concerns, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.

When circumstances reached their worst, I was expelled from school, from my church and from my social group. I was forced to leave home and had to live on the streets for several months.

I entered treatment a year later, although I was not always compliant due to the way the medications caused me to lose my sense of self.
The peace and balance I eventually gained came when I began to integrate traditional spiritual practices from my native culture into my day-to-day recovery, many of which helped me to see that I was gifted rather than “sick.” I began to accept of my condition and the medication that helped to control it; I had more ambition to regain a productive life.

Today I am an advocate for the integration of cultural and spiritual practices into recovery and am committed to see native communities return to health and harmony.

Anyone who is in treatment, who has a family member in treatment, or may be providing for persons in treatment can benefit by recognizing the value of culture in the path to wellness. Join me during National Minority Mental Awareness Month to spread this message.

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Si Hay Esperanza...Si Se Puede! (Yes, There Is Hope…Yes We Can!)Image

by John Fruttero

I live in West Los Angeles. My parents emigrated from Argentina and raised me in a very traditional Latino household. Anytime I have a petty complaint about my life, I am grounded by thinking about how privileged I am by my Christian faith and the struggles faced by my family and friends, problems faced by many NAMI members.

I once shied away from my Hispanic heritage and the mental illness prevalent in my immediate and extended families. Over the past 15 years I have learned to embrace these truths about my family thanks to the perspective and inspiration that I gained from my mother, my hero, who is now in recovery from bipolar disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

My mother’s courageous road to recovery was not an easy one. It involved many full manic attacks and depressive collapses, followed by picking up the pieces and start over after each one. Each of these breakdowns came with a collection of challenging life experiences for both of us, including being held at gunpoint, visits from police, public humiliation/shame/stigma, hospitalizations, divorce, bankruptcy, years of personal 24/7 suicide watch, dozens of medication combinations, which were rarely met with compliance, and several dozen therapists and doctors, continuously in search of culturally competent, bilingual care.

I doubt that my mother would say the same and I do not blame her, but I would not change a thing. These experiences have taught me so much and given me more patience, compassion and cultural appreciation. Most of all they have enabled my mother and me to help others who have struggled with mental illness in their families. My mother is a proud Persona a Persona teacher and coordinator and I have focused my own efforts in Latino faith communities to aid in overcoming stigma to find mental health care that meets cultural and linguistic needs.

In this time of indiscriminate budget cuts that threaten access to supportive services, join me on National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (and thereafter) to spread the message of hope within diverse communities and to speak out about the need for more attention and funding for culturally and linguistically adequate mental health care.

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My Story of RecoveryImage

by Ron Morton

I am Native American, a member of the Cherokee tribe and share blood with the Creek and Choctaw tribe. I grew up in an urban environment but my family had all been farmers from Oklahoma. Although I was aware of my background from a very young age, I did not learn much about my culture until I was 40 years old, at which time I became very involved in the Indian community in San Diego. Traditional Native American spirituality has been very important in my recovery from substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

For many years after the Vietnam War, I experienced terrible symptoms of PTSD. Not knowing that I had an illness and believing that I was innately bad, it became a very dark time in my life.  Those years were punctuated by visits to jail and mental hospitals and eventually culminated in the loss of my wife and children to divorce. 

Eventually I found my way to Alcoholics Anonymous and sought help at a vet-center in San Diego. I was referred to a clinical psychologist and was finally diagnosed with PTSD. It was a great relief to know that I had a treatable mental illness and that I was not just a hopelessly bad person.

I continue to live with PTSD and have developed mechanisms to help deal with many of the symptoms. This would not have been possible had I not found the spiritual strength I needed in 12-step programs and native spirituality. I continue to participate in these self-help and mutual support programs. They give me the strength to maintain my own recovery and have provided me with the skills to help others. I still participate in traditional ceremonies and travel to South Dakota each year for the Sundance.

Today my life is far different than it was 20 years ago. I have earned two master’s degrees in clinical psychology. I am currently the Director of Recovery and Resiliency for Tennessee for TennCare. I am a member of the board of directors for NAMI. I expect to be ordained as an Episcopal Deacon in 2011. I also assist my wife in running a rescue operation for dogs in Knoxville, Tenn. and still participate in my traditional Native American belief system.

I pass along what my experiences have taught me: that as long as we have hope, we can recover. We can change our lives and the lives of others as long as we do not give in to hopelessness or helplessness. From hope comes all other strengths and the strengths of our forebears can be manifested in us if we are willing to educate ourselves as to what truths have been passed on to us. Our culture is an immense asset.  

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Affirming and Managing My IdentityImage

by Gareth Fenley

My name is Gareth Fenley and I currently live in Columbia, S.C. My first name often fools people because I am actually a female. I also have a female partner. I like to clown around and be silly.  Accompanying this story is a photo of me wearing a funny little hat. I also like to be serious and I hope that is how you take in my story.

I first came out as being gay in 1979. It was a different time, when there was very little acceptance of people in sexual minorities. It was illegal just to have a same-sex partner in most American states. We created a semi-underground subculture of our own. Over the years this community has grown and become more intentionally diverse so that we are now often known as GLBT people—gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.

As a member of the NAMI Diversity and Inclusion Work Group, I am very grateful that NAMI at a national level takes a strong, positive stand to recognize people like me as full partners in diversity efforts.

For me, the experience of affirming and managing my identity as a gay woman has been especially helpful in guiding me with how to accept and present myself as a person with mental illness. The GLBT community has supported me throughout my experiences with psychiatric hospitalization and treatment. What has helped me most over the years is the relationships with other people who stayed in touch and kept offering their love during my worst times.

Mental illness is common in every community. Recovery, too, can spring forth everywhere when we extend our care and compassion without judgment to all who are in need.

During National Minority Mental Health Month, I hope you will join me in promoting the inclusion and empowerment of all diverse communities, including "invisible minorities" like mine: people whose gender identity or sexual orientation diverges from the majority. Please help by supporting affirmation and equal access to mental health care for all.

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Diversity and Inclusion in My HometownImage

by Julia Ann Tate

My name is Julia Ann Tate. I am a member of the NAMI Consumer Council and have been a member of the NAMI Diversity and Inclusion Work Group. I share my story in honor of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month as a demonstration of how increased diversity and inclusion can lead to growing cultural competence.

I grew up in Siloam Springs, Ark., where my mother moved my brother and me at a young age to live near my father's parents after he passed away. When I was growing up, Siloam Springs was all Caucasian and Christian. There have been rumors that there was a sign in town that said, “If you are black, keep driving and do not plan to spend the night here.” Growing up, I never saw that sign. My family instilled in me the value of loving all persons regardless of race, religion, etc.

I left home after high school for higher education in nursing but returned after a difficult time in my life. Siloam Springs had changed. By the 80s, Asian Americans and Latinos began opening businesses and filling positions in various industries. African Americans were attending John Brown University. In 2005, more African American families came to Siloam Springs after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Recently the Siloam Springs Ministerial Alliance hosted an interdenominational service for all belief groups.

This small community is gradually moving toward inclusion and cultural competency.  Join me in promoting the inclusion of all diverse communities and cultural competency in NAMI’s mission of support and recovery.

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