ASHLAND – Stacey Roberts, a licensed social worker in Ashland, was a 19-year-old college student when she began to have visions and hear voices that others couldn’t hear. After being diagnosed with mental illness, she wore the label for over two decades – without intervention to understand her experience.
During this time, Roberts began to believe that her diagnosis defined her personality.
“I went through a very dark time thinking that (diagnosis) was my identity,” Roberts said. “I’ve lost many years that I could have prospered.”
When the Ashland County’s Mental Health and Recovery Board brought Ron Coleman and Karen Taylor of the Hearing Voices Network (HVN) in the UK to a conference seven years ago, Roberts, who attended the event, opened up a whole new perspective.
HVN is a social justice organization that aims to raise awareness and reduce discrimination among people who “hear voices, see visions, or have other unusual perceptions”. While these types of experiences are fairly common (between three and ten percent of the population according to the HVN website), people who talk about them are often dismissed as “crazy” and choose to hide rather than heal.
Stacey Roberts is a licensed social worker and contributor to the Appleseed Community Mental Health Center. She started Celebrate Your Voice in Ashland to provide peer support to people experienced in hearing voices and seeing visions.
“When Karen spoke at the conference and I asked a question, that lightbulb went out,” said Roberts. “What’s my alternate story? I’ve been told this medical model all my life, you know – ‘You are that or you are that, you are being diagnosed with this and that.’ “
“But nobody has ever worked with me. I didn’t know there was an alternate story, ”she said. “I was permeated by the trauma that I was experiencing or had experienced that had affected my view of the world: through the lens of these events.”
Roberts began working with Coleman and Taylor to understand how childhood trauma relates to their experiences of seeing visions and hearing voices. The question: “What’s wrong with you?” has been replaced by: “What happened to you?” Finally sure of exploring the root cause and meaning of these voices and visions, she began to heal.
In July 2018, with the assistance of the Appleseed Community Mental Health Center and Ashland County’s Mental Health and Recovery Board, Roberts founded an HVN-USA affiliated support group in Ashland.
Celebrate Your Mind, one of only three affiliated groups in the state of Ohio, meets twice a month in downtown Ashland. The group is open and takes place in a non-clinical setting where members can speak freely about their experiences without judgment or stigma. The location address and meeting times can be found here.
Jerry Strausbaugh, Executive Director of Appleseed, spoke about the organization’s support for the Ashland support group and their hope for the help it can provide.
“One of the main reasons we support this is because we believe in a drug optimization strategy, which means that drugs can be of help if used strategically. But there are many other avenues that can bring healing, and one of them – especially for people who have heard voices – is this model of exploring your voices and the meaning of your voices, ”Strausbaugh said.
“(Parents of children and teenagers who have these experiences) sometimes go to pastors first before they go to anyone else. They think it’s a spiritual problem,” Roberts said. “I want the Ashland spiritual community to see that this is a real process and that we can work together.”
“It’s unique because if you listen to the mainstream discussion, the psychosis comes from a broken brain and you need medication to fix the problem. (The HVN Approach) says that voices – what some would call a psychotic experience – come out of your body and try to make sense of lived experience. . . If you can explore and learn to deal with these in a safe environment with trusted people, it could be a path to healing. “
Celebrate Your Mind ultimately seeks to provide a place of respect, equality, acceptance, and reciprocity to individuals, many of whom have not received this in the past. Roberts compared it to a weight loss or cancer support group where people on a common topic come together to speak openly about their experiences.
The guidelines of the groups affiliated with HVN-USA include freedoms for members like this: “Freedom to interpret experiences in any way, not just as a disease framework; Freedom to challenge social norms – including gender norms and other ideas about how we should be in the world; The freedom to talk about anything – not just voices and visions. “
Roberts attends the meetings herself, but notes that it is not her job to “lead” them. She is an active participant in a peer group and not a therapeutic self-help group. She said, “Although I am a social worker, I do not offer therapy. I support each other. “
Usually three to four members attend their meetings, but there is room for more community members. Strausbaugh mentioned that Appleseed would like to support expanding into more groups if there is a demand.
Ashland’s mental health levy, which was passed this fall, is funding the group. Both Strausbaugh and Roberts thanked the Ashland County community for voting in support of this segment of the population.
“Two thirds of those who hear voices really never have an interface with the field of psychology. So there are people out there who might experience something, but they don’t go to Appleseed or they are not linked to any mental illness or mental illness. You just have these experiences, ”said Roberts.
“Medicines have their place, but it is not the entirety of the holistic approach that we are striving for and that Appleseed is striving for. (We) recognize this population in our communities that it is not a pathological process – it is an experiential process. “
Roberts remembered the dark times she was in years ago after her diagnosis and shared her personal motivation for working so hard for this group on the ground. “If I had known what I now know, my quality of life would have improved significantly if I had had a group that would have brought me closer to an understanding of myself and my experiences.”
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