Sue McKenzie, co-director of Rogers InHealth works to provide stories of hope and recovery to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Stories change us. In my role at Rogers InHealth I have the joy of creating and participating in environments for people to encounter stories of hope, connection and recovery. Recently over 400 people who provide services to those facing mental health and addiction challenges gathered together at a Milwaukee college. The goal was to brainstorm about how to best address the complexities of trauma, poverty and depression. While participating as one of three panelists chosen to provide context and insight, I shared a brief story about a four-year-old boy.
I had the great pleasure of interviewing his mom and his special education teacher, Janice, for a program Rogers InHealth leads for school staff on engaging and motivating children with mental health challenges.
John’s* mom enrolled him in a local school district after he was expelled from a private preschool. Yes, a four-year-old expelled from preschool! Both adults expressed that John was a good kid with some tough challenges. This often led to others seeing him as a bad kid. Janice mentioned an example of a struggle his classroom teacher was having with John during naptime. After a few weeks of no nap, frustrations rose. Finally one morning, Janice took a walk with John and asked him about naptime. John readily offered that he hated the music the teacher put on. Now, I am not sure if the music was just irritating or if it somehow triggered something for John, but he was clear about his feelings. Janice went home that evening and thought about this dilemma. The next day she brought a pair of headphones to the teacher and suggested she offer them to John. John used the headphones that afternoon and rested with the other children.
Do you feel John’s relief? The teacher’s? Will you remember this story? That is why stories change us. When hearts and minds connect as they often do with a real story of real people, we discover insights that are relevant to our life.
What might you or another gain from a friendly walk or a simple solution? What happens when you ask another what they need and, if possible, provide it without judgment?
The combination of trauma, poverty and depression is very complex and daunting to address. John’s story reminds us that to effectively engage these tough issues we must engage with each unique person we encounter in our work and community life. In that engagement, we find our common humanity and possibly concrete ways to alleviate a bit of the suffering on the road to recovery-living.
To meet some of the awesome people I have interviewed in the past, go to rogersinhealth.org.
*Name changed to protect privacy