Mental Illness Awareness Week: Jerry’s Story

For Mental Illness Awareness Week, we are highlighting members of Thresholds’ Peer Success program. In this program, staff who are in mental health recovery provide services and outreach to Thresholds members. Their first-hand experience with the same struggles our members are going through helps them build stronger social bonds and offer more effective service to our clients. This story is from Jerry, a long-time member of the Peer Success team.

I have been in relatively successful dual recovery (recovery from a simultaneous mental illness and substance use disorder) for 18 years. Before that, I lived with untreated Bipolar Disorder and a substance use disorder, and was increasingly unable to live a full life.

I received some tough love from my best friend Michele. She convinced me to visit an emergency room and ask for help, despite my lack of health insurance. At Chicago Read, I began taking medication for the first time, attended therapy groups, and started learning about recovery. My depression began to improve, and I realized that sobriety was necessary to really recover. I have been sober ever since, with no relapses.

Upon discharge, I was referred to a pair of residential programs located at Lawson House YMCA. I spent 6 years living there. At first, I had no idea what to do with my new life in dual recovery. The mental health care workers I had interacted with, however, gave me the idea to start doing this kind of work myself.

I enrolled in a Psych Rehab Certificate Program (PRCP) at Wright College, and wound up meeting with Lena, a Thresholds staff member who was volunteering with the PRCP course. Lena told me of her dream of opening a drop-in center for people in recovery from mental illness and substance disorders. She said if the idea got off the ground, she would hire me as her dual recovery specialist. I was flattered and filed that thought away.

Sure enough, a year and a half later Lena called to report that her dream was a reality. Lena asked if I would still come work for her and I agreed. Still in school, I began working 13 hours a week when the Thresholds Peer Success opened on Dec. 2, 2004, and after five years became a full-time employee. I have been working for Lena ever since, first with the Thresholds Peer Success program and then at New Freedom Center Central.

I am still occasionally troubled with depressive symptoms, but I now have good coping skills and a job that surrounds me with recovery 5 days a week. I had some great times during my addictions and periods of untreated mania, but my 18 years of illness management and sobriety are by far the best years of my life.

I am 71 years old and I could retire tomorrow but I am not yet ready. After so many years without treatment, I feel I owe it to myself and to the universe to be productive for as long as possible and help as many of my peers as I can.

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Christine’s Story

Christine has been with Thresholds’s Peer Success program for the last 7 years. She values hard work, acceptance of others, unconditional kindness and the ability to be who she truly is without judgment.

Growing up, Christine struggled to find acceptance for who she truly is from friends and family and others she encountered on a day-to-day basis. When she began to grow into the understanding that she identified with a gender she was not assigned at birth, she received backlash from family, friends and caseworkers at other agencies. This judgment and feelings of isolation added to the depression she was grappling with. Since walking through Thresholds’s doors over forty years ago as a young adult, Christine has found a home.

 “I love the staff here, as they are all in recovery like myself and they treat me as an equal. These people here are like another family to me. No matter what people are going through, nobody has to put them down, talk about them because we all go through things in life…If you give them a good uplifting — that lets them know that there is somebody out there that loves them, cares for them and wants them to get better and want them to have a better way of life.”

The strong community within Thresholds and at the Empowerment Center helps Christine to express how she truly feels about herself and her growth as a transgender woman. She says that she enjoys the community that Thresholds provides her, one in which she feels comfortable with who she is and accepted by everyone around her.

“I have never been treated different of my gender. A lot of people here have given me encouragement here. A lot of people would put me down about the way I dress, but coming here they respect me and treat me as a human being. That’s why I like coming here.”

Thresholds has helped Christine in many ways including finding apartments that she loves, feel safe in and can call a home.

“Thresholds is a good agency because they look at what the individual needs and they try to accommodate those need especially when getting an apartment for that individual. They make sure you’re in a safe environment.”

She also likes how she continually learns from staff, her peers and the groups she attends within Thresholds. As a Peer Success team member, Christine gives back to her Thresholds peers by imparting what she’s learned from her experiences and various other programs that helped her when she was battling addiction.

For those struggling and looking for acceptance in the same way she was before finding Thresholds, Christine offers this insight:

“The way I’m treated here is like, everybody understands me and they feel like they’re not better than me. We all have our struggles. We all have different avenues to get through. Don’t let nothing stop you from what you want to accomplish.”

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Ronald’s Story

“The people that visit Thresholds, they all have a story. We all interact and we support each other. And I think that’s the most important thing that is.”

Ronald has spent much of his life caring for others, moving from job to job in order to support his family and keep a roof over his head. His father died when he was 17 and he fell into the role of head of household, taking care of a grieving mother while trying to manage his own growing depression. When telling his story, he speaks matter-of-factly, about his choice to support his family, work and take care of his mother without fully experiencing his grief about his father’s passing.

“The grief stayed with me for a really long time.”

He’s worked in a number of places to support his family, honing skills at a steel mill and the US postal office. After work he would spend time playing with his daughter, who he adores.

“I really didn’t concentrate too much on my illness. Mostly, I focused on supporting my family.”

In 1985, Ronald’s mother passed away and his depression got worst. He was hospitalized several times for mental illness and his worsening substance use disorder.

“I was introduced to Thresholds where I found support and acceptance and understanding, not only with my disabilities, but also with taking medication. I met a lot of wonderful people here who have supported me.”

Ronald attributes taking his medication and support from peers as a combination that helps him stay healthy and feel supported.

“Since I’ve been on my new medication for the last 3-4 years. I have come to terms with my illness. I think medication is very important and it alleviates a lot of anxiety, fear and paranoia.”

Ronald has been living in Ridgeview Nursing home for the last six years. He was recently accepted to the Moving On Program, which designates him as able to live independently in his own apartment. His strength in adversity, his acceptance of his mental illness, and the strong support system he’s built for himself have helped him achieve his goal of having a place to call his own.

“Yesterday, I turned into an application for housing. I feel great.”

Ronald has shown growth throughout his years while coming to terms with his mental illness and substance abuse. He displays insight that comes with great experience about peer support and taking medication that aids in reducing symptoms. He finishes his story with a simple, but profound statement that he hopes will help others that are finding their way to recovery.

“I’ve come a long way and I hope to share this with others.”

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Andre’s Story

When asked where he was before Thresholds, Andre gives an honest and insightful response.

“Where was I? I was drinking every day. I was using street drugs. I was hearing voices. I was living basically from door to door. I had no source of income. I couldn’t find a job.”

Andre’s “day to day survival” included bathing in the park district and taking the small amount of money he made to get a hotel room every once in a while for rest and a warm shower. Eventually, Andre was put in the Cook County jail for drinking in the park and was moved from the general population to the medical wing. He was put on more medication for his schizophrenia, and released with the phone number to an organization that would help him – Thresholds.

Andre enrolled in groups 7 days a week through Thresholds as a way to help him stay off the streets. He explains why it was so hard to resist drinking when spending nights out in parks and on the street, and how going to groups at Thresholds helped him develop essential coping skills.

“When you’re on the streets, you just want to drink…When you’re schizophrenic, it’s hard being out at night because you’re already hearing voices. You’re already imagining the worse. It was hard, so I just stuck to the programs and just tried to stay away from the negative homeless people.”

For approximately two years, Andre went to Thresholds groups on a near-daily basis. He was linked up with a psychiatrist at Thresholds, his first psychiatrist ever. Before that, he would have to wait in line at Cook County Jail to get his medication, and sometimes wouldn’t get every medication he needed. He also got his Medicaid card.

“Play ping pong or pool, hang out ‘til 5 in the evening, watch television. It was a place off the streets. It was like a safe haven. I just kept playing and doing the groups. Eventually things get better.”

Jerry, his caseworker in Thresholds’s Peer Success program, aided Andre in getting his very first apartment. When asked how it felt having the keys to his first apartment in his hand, Andrew laughed and a huge smile showed on his face.

“It felt so good being off the streets and having a roof over my head. A balcony. I had a friend there and lived there for six years.”

Andre has now been sober for over ten years and continues his work with our Peer Success team.

“I’ve been doing well no interruptions, no problems with my housing programs. No problems with the law. I’m doing good. And I have two pets and I really don’t drink or use drugs anymore…This is the best I’ve done in my entire life. Just living life one day at a time.”

Governor Signs Children & Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act

Chicago, IL – We are thrilled that Governor JB Pritzker signed the Children & Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act into law on Friday, August 23rd. The legislation, championed by Representative Sara Feigenholtz and Senator Heather Steans, took aim at many of the deficiencies in mental health services for youth across Illinois. Thresholds played a key role in advocating for the bill.

Illinois will be the first state in the country to require private insurance coverage of treatment approaches that involve a multi-disciplinary team of mental health professionals to enable early recovery for psychosis, bipolar disorder, and other serious mental health conditions for children and young adults under the age of 26. These approaches historically have only been offered through public programs, but are proven through clinical research as some of the best-practice treatment models available to prevent future disability.

The legislation also makes it easier for a child with Medicaid coverage who is experiencing a mental health issue but who does not have a full-blown diagnosis of a mental health condition to get treatment. This is important for youth who may have experienced violence, trauma, or other circumstance that created a need for counseling or other mental health services but did not lead to a clinical diagnosis.

The bill also tackles a state-funded program, the Family Support Program, for children with serious mental health conditions. The legislation expands and streamlines eligibility, strengthens the services covered by the program, and improves the lines of communication about the program between in-patient psychiatric hospital units and families.

“Early treatment of mental health conditions in children and young people in their 20s is absolutely crucial for strong brain development and ensuring success in school, work, and life. We must tackle the barriers that get in the way of access to mental health treatment in our state head-on, and this bill takes a major step in that direction,” says State Representative Sara Feigenholtz. “The bill does that by requiring insurance companies to do what they should be doing, while also leveraging federal funding for public programs.”

The Children & Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act, HB2154, was developed by the Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives Coalition. The coalition includes mental health and substance use treatment providers and individual and family advocates across Illinois.

Thresholds Commends Governor for Signing Legislation Strengthening Medicaid

CHICAGO – Thresholds applauds Governor Pritzker for signing into law SB1321, a package of measures aimed at strengthening Illinois’ Medicaid program – the single largest payer of mental health and substance use treatment.

In partnership with advocates from across the state, Thresholds spearheaded provisions in the legislation that pave the way for better continuity of coverage and more innovative approaches to treatment.

Currently, tens of thousands of Illinoisans experience a lapse in healthcare coverage due to inefficient and unnecessarily cumbersome processes each year. As a result, these individuals lose access to medication and other treatment services needed to lead healthy lives, in spite of most people continuing to be eligible for coverage. Through the Protect Our Care IL Coalition, Thresholds worked to secure provisions prompting the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to identify opportunities for streamlining Medicaid eligibility determinations and renewals by better leveraging data and community partnerships.

governer pritzker holding a just-signed bill as the people around him applaud.

Thresholds also helped craft provisions calling on HFS to lead a stakeholder work group focused on modernizing Illinois’ behavioral healthcare system by developing a strategy for scaling up value-based payment (VBP) arrangements. VBP enables better patient outcomes by allowing providers greater flexibility to innovate and tailor services to meet the needs of those living with mental health conditions.

“Today’s signing of SB1321 represents a big step in the right direction for the future of Illinois’ Medicaid program. This law lays the groundwork for important changes for the 3 million Illinoisans who get their healthcare coverage through Medicaid, including thousands of children and adults living with mental health and substance use conditions in communities across our state,” says Heather O’Donnell, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy at Thresholds.

Thresholds will continue to work with the Governor’s administration and stakeholders throughout Illinois to implement the bill and ensure that individuals eligible for Medicaid are able to get and keep their coverage so that they can receive the services they need to live well and thrive.

Media contact: Emily Moen, VP of PR & Marketing, Thresholds (773-572-5172).

“Why I Give” from Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler

Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University, as well as a member of the Thresholds Board of Directors.

I was attracted to Thresholds by the scope of their work, particularly the holistic approach they take. My own work focuses on improving engagement in mental health services in underserved communities. Through my work, I have become familiar with Thresholds, as they are a leader in community-based mental health care. While the organization focuses on mental health and substance use disorders, the housing and employment services they offer to clients provides more comprehensive support structures.

As a provider in this city, I know how gravely needed mental health services are and how difficult it is for people with insurance to access and engage with the mental health service system, let alone those who do not have those same privileges. Having spent time embedded in the Thresholds culture, I’m also touched by the remarkable compassion and humaneness with which they treat their clients.

As a black woman, I know mental health is not something adequately discussed in the black community; but as a psychologist myself, I’m also keenly aware of the relationship between mental and physical health. When I look at organizations looking to close the gaps in service availability and treat people with compassion, Thresholds sticks out as exceptional.

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“Why I Give” from Jeremiah Boyd

Jeremiah Boyd is a long-time supporter of Thresholds. He is a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the US Navy.

One of my family members struggled with the challenges of mental illness for years – improper medications, lack of professional help, and more. Finally, by good fortune, she was introduced to Thresholds.

Thresholds set her up with professionals genuinely dedicated to helping others, not only informing her of the benefits and programs available to her, but actively helping her navigate the confusing, complicated systems of care. Watching her recovery was nothing short of remarkable. It would not have been possible without the time, effort, sincerity, and commitment Thresholds put into her treatment.

Thresholds and its staff were instrumental in providing her with a sense of confident independence and stability in many aspects of her life. In my exposure to different mental health providers, agencies, and programs, none of them compare to what Thresholds continually proves itself to be – effective.

As a donor, I’ve had the fortunate pleasure of speaking with a few staff at Thresholds. They reached out to me and expressed interest in just getting to know who I am. I was blown away by the sincerity in this gesture, as it did not come with additional solicitations or hidden agendas. They only wanted to thank me and hear my story.

Further, they offered to explain more about what they do, who they help, and the ways they’re looking to grow . This had a huge impact on my perspective and really reaffirmed and emboldened my desire to contribute to their mission. They topped their previous gesture by inviting me to one of their facilities for a tour and to see exactly where they’re using my contributions. This impressed me more than anything, because when it comes to financially contributing to charitable causes it is wonderful to see your money in action.

Thresholds puts their words into action and makes their actions have lasting impact. This organization has shown me, and I’m sure many others, that they consistently are devoted to their mission and helping those who need it most. This is why I give (and will continue to give) to Thresholds.

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“Why I Give” from Roxanne Martino

Roxanne Martino is a Thresholds Board Member and a Managing Partner of OceanM19.

In January 1991, I sat in on a Thresholds board meeting and lunch as reward for working one of their fundraisers and heard a moving story from the father of one of our clients. His child had been “the perfect daughter”, graduating head of her class and attending Harvard. However, one Christmas she came home and was very quiet, and a few weeks later her university roommate called to say she wouldn’t leave her dorm room. His wife went up to Cambridge to check on her, but when she got there their daughter had vanished. They didn’t hear from her for thirty years, until someone from Thresholds called and told them that they believed a current Thresholds client was their daughter.

One of Thresholds’ Homeless Outreach Program caseworkers had befriended her in a park, and over the course of many months gained enough trust to learn her legal name. Because of one Thresholds staff’s dedication and persistence, this mother and father found their daughter they thought they’d lost so many years before.

I have been working with Thresholds since 1991 and have never once regretted it. I wanted to help people who were experiencing homelessness in a way that really worked, and found that Thresholds’ services offered the most comprehensive, long-term solutions.

Mental illness is a major issue for a large portion of people experiencing homelessness. Rather than handing out temporary fixes, the staff at Thresholds work with individuals to formulate long-term solutions. Thresholds gains people’s trust, helps them reconnect with their families, gets them access to social security, and provides the mental and physical healthcare they need.

As an individual progresses in their recovery, Thresholds moves with them, supporting them at every level. I think that with all the gifts that I’ve been given, I should spend my time helping those who can’t help themselves or have a very hard time helping themselves. To me, Thresholds is one of the most worthwhile organizations in Illinois because it helps people achieve lasting progress towards recovery and away from homelessness.

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