About the Speaker: Gabe Howard is an award-winning writee, mental health activist and sought-after speaker & Educator
It is my job, goal, and life’s work to have more conversations surrounding mental, mental illness, and psychology because people experience this, yet most people aren’t talking about it. When a mental crisis or a mental health illness issue occurs, we’re sort of behind the A ball as a society because we don’t know how to react. I’m looking to flip the script on that and get people to the knowledge before they need it rather than after.
I was formally diagnosed in 2003. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and I speak from experience when I say that I had to learn all of this after the fact. The day before I was diagnosed, I knew nothing about mental illness, nothing about mental health. I thought I was interested in physiology but I wasn’t. Then, I’m diagnosed I’m in a hospital, in a locked psychiatric ward and I needed to learn everything instantly.
I wished that I would have had a lot of knowledge ahead of time because I think if I would have been diagnosed sooner, I probably wouldn’t have been suicidal and in crisis. Thankfully, I ended up in a physiatrics hospital. I could have easily ended up in jail, or in a morgue, it could have turned out a lot worst.
What’s interesting is people are like “you were in a locked psychiatric ward, that’s the worst-case scenario”. Interestingly, it is not! That’s like the best-case scenario for somebody that has an untreated mental illness that they’re unaware of and that they’re doing nothing about, a psychiatric ward is the best case.
The worst thing about being in a psychiatric ward is, it’s a complete lack of control. It’s locked, the doors are locked. Everything is controlled, and regimented. When I checked in they took stuff from me. The things that I brought in from home to make myself feel better in the hospital were like “you can’t have that”. My girlfriend at the time brought me, my favorite drink and they were like, “no that has caffeine in it, he can’t have it”.
At the end of the first visit I wanted to walk her to the elevator, and they were like “no you can’t”. That’s kind of devastating to your psyche a little bit because I’m like GROWN! they’re like “NO”. It was for my good, they were trying to keep me alive, I was there because I was suicidal. But from my perspective at that moment I just felt weak. Those are the things that I remembered; just how little agency I had.
I’m lucky for an incredible number of reasons. 1st, I’m lucky that I had money, my care over the next four years was a couple hundred thousand dollars. I was able to be hospitalized, I was able to see a psychiatrist every 4-6 weeks. I was able to try the best medications on the market. I was able to go to intensive outpatient treatment. I was able to go to the hospital for 8 hours a day 5 times a week. I was able to do that twice. I was able to go to support groups led by psychologists and psychiatrists, there wasn’t any sort of care that I wasn’t able to afford. That was so important to me.
Secondly, I did have a good family, while they made a ton of mistakes they were there for me. They didn’t run away from me, they were there for little things. My whole family helped me move out of my house into a smaller apartment when money got tight and when I lost my job. When I did lose my job, I had plenty of people to talk to me and say “Hey you’re more than just a job, you’re going to focus on wellness” and that pumped me up. Of course, I had my number one (then girlfriend now wife), who was there for those really low points. Lastly, I worked very hard.
Somebody who doesn’t have all those resources only can have one of those things, and that is to work hard. Maybe, they can have two of those things, because they can work hard and they have a really good family but if they don’t have the money they are not going to have access to the same amount of care that I did.
Then even that fractures out, there are plenty of people that have good health insurance but maybe they live in rural America where these programs are not there or they can’t afford these programs. Maybe they have the money but they don’t have a number one, or a good family. If you don’t know what to buy the amount of money isn’t going to be helpful. You need to find a way to pay for treatment because treatment is so important. You need to take your medications as prescribed and get the right medications. You need to have a support system because thats’s so important.
There are things that you can do if you’re not as fortunate as I was;
- Support can come from many different places, find peer support groups.
- Find consumer-operated drop-in centers.
- Find a sponsor.
- Find people who have been there; There are lots of free support groups sponsored by mental health charities all over.
- Find a buddy, who is willing to help you and be respectful of their boundaries.
- Ask questions,
- Go to all of the appointments, even when you don’t want to, even if you’ve been in the same clothes for five days and you haven’t showered, find a way to get to that appointment. The people there will understand more than you think.
- If you don’t have health insurance you have to find health insurance.
- Apply for disability, welfare, medicare, social services: some people that I talk to are like “I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to be a mooch”. Listen, it’s a social safety net, for a reason. You’re going to use that safety net to get well and then when you’re well, you’ll be happy, you’ll go back to work, and your work and earnings will help fund these social nets for the next person
- Fight hard for a better future, and find the things that you need.
As much as I hate to say it, it does boil down to advocacy, you’re now sick and you have to advocate for yourself, this is an overwhelming task, but it is not an impossible one.