May is Mental Health Month: the consumer perspective

Diane Gramann, Susan Hatfield, Jeni Woods

Diane Gramann, Susan Hatfield, Jeni Woods

Qualifacts’ last employee event in observation of May is Mental Health Month came in the form of a powerful testimonial about life with mental illness.

Susan Hatfield – Outstanding Community Impact Volunteer, board member and consumer with Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee – spoke to us of her 35-year personal struggle with mental illness (diagnosis: schizoaffective disorder, depressive subtype). Susan is a recent recipient of a Mary Catherine Stroebel Award and tells her story because increasing education reduces fear.

Her account was vividly painted and moving. Some highlights:

  • She spoke of excelling academically and having a strong desire to work, but her symptoms started early and “… settled as a cloud, a shroud over [her] mind.”
  • When talking about her hospitalizations for depressive episodes – 24 in 35 years – she related, “I came to rely heavily on hospitals for my own safety.”
  • At a particularly defeating time when her symptoms forced her to leave a job she enjoyed, she admitted to feeling like, “I was giving my illness a life of its own.”
  • During a two-year experience in residential treatment for severe and persistent mental illness, she realized, “I had insight but no control.”

For Qualifacts, Susan’s story was a powerful reminder of the importance of the work our customers do for people just like Susan every day. How essential it is for us to keep focus on sustaining and extending our customers’ ability to serve.

Mental illness can be a lifelong struggle with peaks and valleys; for every step forward, there can be several steps back. Treatment for Susan’s mental illness came in the form of therapy, pharmaceuticals, numerous hospitalizations lasting anywhere from two weeks to three months, and electroconvulsive shock therapy treatments. She has been living independently for seven years now, but her success story continues daily.

According to Susan, “My diagnosis is a challenge, but I am proud of how I have handled it. … I am a strong survivor.”

Qualifacts staff listen intently to Susan's story

Qualifacts staff listen intently to Susan’s story

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