Mental Health: Eliminating The Stigma

By Faith Montgomery

depressed man holding pill box

I am so proud to have been a part of the first ever Broward Mental Health Summit held on September 12th, 2018! This was a hugely successful event which brought awareness to the disease of Mental Health. Seeing all of the amazing people at the Summit supporting us in our endeavor, and more importantly, who care about this disease as much as I do, brought tears to my eyes, a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. The outpouring of support from our community prove that together, we can truly make a difference in the lives of those suffering from addiction and mental illness.

All of our guest speakers were amazingly informative and their words were incredibly moving. If there was one speaker that stood out, it was Michi Marshall. Her courageous  story had the biggest impact on me, both as a woman and as someone coping with the mental illness of a loved one. Not only because I’m a huge Dolphins fan, but the fact that she was able to share her story about her husband, Brandon Marshall, the famed football player, so openly and candidly was truly inspiring. She realized that in spite of the beautiful mansion they lived in, the fancy cars they drove and all the money they had, it did not protect them from a disease like mental health. Thankfully, once they became aware of what was happening to Brandon, treatment was sought at McLean Hospital immediately to help rectify the problem. Courageously, they stood by each other’s side through the entire ordeal. Michi eloquently expressed the importance of “being vulnerable so others can be vulnerable back with you”. Wow, how refreshingly poignant was this to hear because this was precisely what I’ve always felt to be true. Although it might not be easy, when someone has the ability to be vulnerable, healing can begin. Trust can be rebuilt and a solid foundation can be re-established.

As I sat there marveling at the enormous crowd that turned out for the Summit, I couldn’t help but feel a tremendous sense of relief to know that there is incredible support as well as a wealth of information available to the community in our hopes to find the cure for mental illness one soul at a time.

I was honored from the first moment David (Executive Director at Spark of Hope) asked me to become the Director of Spark of Hope’s First Responders and Veterans Recovery Program, which was launched in January of this year. I was moved immeasurably when he allowed me to name the Program (Cindi McCue Initiative) in honor of my close friend and former law enforcement colleague, Cindi McCue. Tragically, Cindi, unbeknownst to those  closest to her, suffered from mental illness and took her own life in 2015.

As a First Responder for over 18 years, I know first-hand how important it is to address addiction and mental health matters openly and free from stigma. On a personal level, this disease is no stranger to me and to my family, as my oldest son has been struggling with mental health throughout his recent years. Thankfully, he’d always felt safe to talk to me about everything and never had an issue dealing with his struggles. I remembered the first time he disclosed the news to me at the age of 21… “Mom I think there’s something wrong with me. I don’t care about anything, I literally have no feelings about anything”. I felt my heart sink. I knew immediately then he needed to get help. Thanks to Chrysalis, he was able to get an in-house therapist to help him at the time. I will never forget the morning of June 1st, 2017, when my son, then 24, came into my room at 4 am to wake me up. Our
conversation was eerily normal and brief. He uttered the following words to me quietly “Mom, I’m not feeling well, I’m going to go to the hospital.” I asked him if he was ok. He replied nonchalantly “yeah…yeah I must have a bug or something because my stomach is hurting”. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Coral Springs Police Officers were actually waiting in my living room to Baker Act him. When I arrived home at 6 pm that evening, I realized that my son was still not back. My maternal intuition instinctively kicked in and told me that there was something wrong. I told myself to calm down. I began to dial the numbers of area hospitals, and after a few calls, thankfully, I located him! I spoke to the nurse in charge who advised me she was unable to disclose any specific details about my son because he was an adult. She said the only thing she could tell me was that my son had been Baker Acted. As soon as I heard those words, my heart sank again as tears streamed down my face uncontrollably. From working in law enforcement for many years, I immediately knew what had happened. I thanked the nurse and hung up the phone quickly. I needed to be with my son. As I arrived at the hospital and hurried to my son’s bedside, I was horrified by the sight that confronted me. My son was unconscious, surrounded by tubes and an IV protruding from his arm. The sight sickened me to my core. I will never forget this image of my poor son. It is an image that no mother should have to bear. Miraculously, my son recovered. Still, there were no words to aptly describe the feeling of despair of witnessing my son attempting to take his own life. My “baby” was suffering and I was utterly helpless and unable to help him.

The disease of mental illness affects everyone. It bears no mercy. It does not discriminate. No population is immune from it. As a mother, I must fight with every fiber of my being to bring this disease to the forefront of acceptance. As a First Responder, I will help others by being attentive to their cries for help. As a concerned citizen, I hope you will join me to obliterate the stigma of those struggling with mental illness so we can provide better healthcare for those in need.

Faith Montgomery is the Director of the Cindi McCue Initiative – First Responders’ Recovery Program at Spark of Hope.