New Mind Springs Health program director: ‘People’s lives do get saved’
February 2, 2017
Mind Springs Health, the region's mental health care provider, welcomed Sonia Jackson as its new Summit County program director late last year and she's settling into her new role after more than 35 years spent as a mental health professional, with nearly two decades of that time in Colorado. Jackson, who will be making the move from Denver, says she didn't pick the field, it picked her.
After enlistment in the U.S. Air Force as a teen, which stationed her at Malcolm Grow Medical Center near Washington, D.C., as a medical and psychology technician, Jackson says she overcame some of her own obstacles from when she was younger with the help of a number of mentors, and soon realized she'd found her calling. She's worked for both for-profits and nonprofits in her career following a bachelor's in social work from the University of Texas and a master's in business administration from the University of Phoenix. Jackson says she puts high value on evidence-based medical systems that help make a difference in people's lives.
The Daily caught up with Jackson to ask her about her new role in the community and what she hopes to offer.
Summit Daily: What have been your first steps in getting started in the new position?
Sonia Jackson: My first piece was about getting with our partners. I think that's really important for me to understand everyone else's experience with us first before I look at ourselves. So I've spent time trying to get out to the different care agencies like ourselves where we really intersect with the populations that we serve with behavioral health and substance abuse, or substance-abuse disorders. That's really been my goal, to understand the community. I've been part of some of the other initiatives … and trying to get with everyone that's involved in looking at the issue of stigmatization of what we're doing as well as any of those contributing so I can really understand the connections and build that relationship. The biggest part of my job is going to be how we all work together to serve this whole population.
SDN: What attracted you to this job, and why did you accept it?
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SJ: I've been dedicated to mental health all my life. I have personal reasons why I got into the field, but I also have what drew me into this field and the differences I've seen, the changes that have happened. People's lives do get saved. I know we can make a difference, and I know we can prevent a suicide, and that's a very wonderful place to be as an individual. And I believe that with treatment and all the things that go with that, whether it's an initial session because someone is having difficulties in their private life to that point when someone is in despair and thinking suicide and having those thoughts, I know treatment works and I know that we can help someone get there. But it does take the whole, because there are a lot of people who don't connect with mental health services until someone makes that connection and helps without judgment about how we're all very much the same.
SDN: Is stigma about mental health issues still a reality in the nation, and in Summit, as you learn more about this community?
SJ: I think stigma is pretty simple — it's what sets us apart from each other. So in any community, and anywhere we deal with human beings, there's things that set us apart. Some of the challenges with stigma are that there's either stigma we have coming in or stigma that we deal with ourselves for having a mental illness and how that impacts us. But stigma is really a disconnection with other people, and so how do we relearn how to connect with people where they're at and through their illness, regardless of what that illness is? But specifically on mental health and substance-use disorders, everybody has their own views of those, and it's ironic, because so many people have experienced those abuses or mental health issues somewhere in their family, or a friend or something. That stigma is real, and people really have a hard time with, how do I connect with someone like that?
And I think that's the key, how do we find connection, and more importantly, how do we find those things that reconnect us? Then everyone becomes a part of the community around them. Mental illness may not go away. It may be something that someone struggles with, but having that acceptance and that connection makes a world of difference. Since I've been out in this community, I am very impressed with the education that this community has on, 'Let's change the issue of stigma when it comes to mental health and substance-abuse disorders, and how can we all play a part in that?' I'm very impressed with the dedication.
SDN: Can stigma really be resolved?
SJ: I think it's ongoing. I think we can reduce stigma, that we can bring those people who are disconnected, there are many things that we can do to help bring people out. That's why we do things like mental health first aid and educating people — don't be afraid to ask someone who you can tell is struggling and in despair, don't be afraid to ask what's happening, what can I do and how can I be a part of helping you find resources. That makes a world of difference for someone, because once you get into that self-stigmatization, that despair can keep you more and more disconnected, so it's about putting things more out in the open and being more transparent. And it's hard with mental health and substance abuse, because so many people have spent most of their lives not facing some of that and trying to stay busy doing other things. Sometimes we have to face some of our own beliefs, because it starts to become personal, in order to reach out as well. And that's a good thing that we begin to do that.