Peer support group helps with mental health recovery
FRISCO If she was expecting a call and the phone didn’t ring, Donna Estes immediately began to wonder what was wrong with her.In fourth grade, she was sent to the counselor’s office once a week, and as the years went by, she constantly thought the worst of herself. Then, at age 37, a therapist diagnosed her with clinical depression – something that she found runs in her family.”Mental illness is very socially isolating. It’s feeling like others are looking down on you, feeling rejected,” said Estes, who is combating her own depression and helping others by working as a peer support specialist for a group that meets weekly in Frisco. “This is a place where people can come and feel accepted and cared about. … It’s very empowering to be accepted by others and to be cared about and encouraged and to have others advocate for you.”The group, which formed in September, offers free help to those with mental illness – something especially important since funding for mental health has been cut during the last few years, Estes said. According to the Mental Health Association of Colorado, funding for mental health and substance abuse care has been reduced by 30 percent during the past three years.Also, because of the lack of funding, “our prisons have become our new hospitals,” Estes said.Mental health by the numbersSince 1991, the number of adults with serious mental illness in Colorado prisons has increased from 3 to 20.4 percent of the total prison population. And nearly 40 percent of committed youth in the Juvenile Justice System have serious mental illness. Listed in the same report by the Mental Health Association, another impact of budget cuts is the state’s suicide rate being 40 percent higher than the national average. Mental health encounters have increased 133 percent, drug dependency encounters have increased 999 percent and alcohol encounters have increased 53 percent, the association said.Often times people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol because of the expense of medication, Estes explained. Unless they have benefits that cover the drugs, it could cost them more than $1,000 a month, she added.Finding a supportive placeEstes became an advocate for mental health seven years ago after someone close to her suffered a breakdown and required hospitalization. During that time she saw that so many of the people there had no visitors.”Some people who become severely mentally ill live in such a dark world and society gives up on them,” she added.Estes wants to fight the stigma and encourage those suffering from mental illness and their family members and friends to come check out the support group. Between eight and 15 people of all ages and backgrounds and with a variety of mental illness including depression and bipolar disorder attend the group.For a long time Estes had felt alone in Summit County and didn’t know of other families going through what she was. Then, her psychologist put her and a few others together to train to become peer support specialists so they could reach to help others on the road to recovery.In September, they formed the peer support group that meets weekly at Timberline Adult Day Services in Frisco.”It’s a wonderfully supportive group,” said Estes, who has seen people open up to the group when they previously didn’t even want to leave their home. “It takes on a life force of its own. … I’ve never seen anything so powerful.”About 19 million Americans suffer from clinical depression each year, which includes major depressive disorder, manic depression and dysthymia, according to the Mental Health Association. In Summit County’s accommodation and food services industry alone, 256 of the 5,648 employees are affected by depression.”There’s a lot more people who are mentally ill than anyone could possibly imagine,” Estes said. “And nobody prepared anybody to have to deal with these things.”Join the peer support groupMental health consumers, family and friends are invited to join the free peer support group. They meet every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 at Timberline Adult Day Services at the Summit County Community and Senior Center near Frisco.
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