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Mental Health Matters in My Family

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I’ve never known a time when mental illness wasn’t a part of my family’s medical history or among our personal challenges. Three generations of my family have experienced mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and clinical depression. My grandmother experienced what we now would recognize as early onset of her bipolar disorder at the same time she gave birth to her first child, my mother, in 1941. She suffered greatly as a result of the denial, aversion and derision she was subjected to by her own siblings and various family members after the onset of what was then called manic depression. My grandmother eventually became a single parent to 5 children after being abandoned by my grandfather. He refused to deal with a wife experiencing mental illness in a very profound way. The stigma surrounding mental illness was more than he was able or willing to live with. My grandmother was hospitalized several times during an era in which psychiatric conditions and care was obviously less advanced than it is today. It troubles me to know that my grandmother, who was among the people in my life that I cherished more than any other, suffered more than was needed as a result of the stigma surrounding her mental illness and particularly as a result of the lack of awareness on the part of those she loved.  The fact that she had to overcome stigma from her own family, people who in every other way I also cherish is difficult to resolve in my heart and in my minds-eye. I witnessed the survivor my grandmother was as she lived a very long life filled with many more challenges. She lived, she loved and she and her children flourished.

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Fortunately, in my lifetime the stigma often attached to mental illness has been greatly reduced. I never felt a stigma resulting from my own depression or anxiety disorders though certainly I can relate to other stigmas. My younger brother experienced extreme psychosis and a hospitalization in 1992 as a result of an early adult onset and diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1992. He was 23 in the midst of completing his master’s degree. Certainly he faced upset and challenges, but he was fortunate to not have to deal with many barriers resulting from stigma. He had extremely supportive friends and family, received excellent care and he is amazingly resilient. He is successful in his desired profession and relationships. I, too, am successful in managing anxiety and depression and recognize that mental health, like addiction and being overweight are simply a part of the many things in my life that further shape who I am and that require attention and self-care. There is no shame in my game and I don’t let mental health disorders define me.

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Self-awareness and self-care occur when we are able to remove stigma from our lives. Still, words have so much power and a lack of understanding from those around us can have such long-lasting effects.  Internalizing negative messages from others negatively impacts those who may yet flourish and do so more quickly if they were not encountering unnecessary barriers. As someone currently working with mental health consumers and their families, I see others as they experience mental illness. I’m extremely proud to assist them in their stabilization and recovery process and to be afforded that opportunity through an agency that strives to uplift the human spirit in everything they do. As we recognize Mental Health Matters Month, perhaps the greatest thing we can do is to work to reduce stigma and increase awareness of both mental illness and mental health. Are you aware that numerous published studies report that 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that 50% of us will experience at least one mental illness in our lifetimes? Such numbers require of us that we embrace and support our community, empower by encouraging self-acceptance and greater self-care. We can confront and rebuke stigma. We still have a very long way to go in advancing greater gains in the mental health movement. We can start by taking a simple pledge to reduce stigma in ourselves, our families and within our community.

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– submitted by Mark Leanhart 
2409a891180b9bb4d77398336e9b3761.pngFor over 40 years, WestCare California has been providing an opportunity for individuals to lead fuller, richer lives. Our team of multi-cultural, experienced and credentialed staff is dedicated to providing the best care to everyone who enters our doors. Our goal is to uplift the human spirit by providing the skills and support necessary for individuals to achieve their dreams and transform their lives.

WestCare provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in both residential and outpatient environments. Our service domains include mental health & wellness, substance abuse and addiction treatment, housing opportunities, education & prevention, criminal justice and veterans programs. These services are available to adults, children, adolescents, and families.

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Strides to Success: Eduardo R.

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Eduardo R.

“Eduardo R. came to WestCare Bakersfield in June of 2015 after serving many years in prison of a life term. He worked very hard while incarcerated to earn his release by the Board of Prison Terms. While in the program, he was a role model, always positive even when he didn’t feel like it and just as he did in prison, he worked hard to meet the program requirements, often going above and beyond by helping younger residents.” –  Melodie Everest, Community Service Specialist, STOP Area 3

How has your life changed from before you entered treatment to after you finished treatment? “My life has changed for the better in many ways. Compared to my past unconcerned, unappreciative and inconsiderate attitude, I now appreciate everything in life and I do not allow my negative feelings to dictate the course of my day. I am no longer their slave. I now smile more, greet and treat people with kindness, consideration, empathy and compassion.”

What advice can you give to anyone in the early stages of their recovery? “In the early stages of recovery, you will encounter many personal obstacles. You will have to do and say things you will have trouble doing or saying. You will also hear things you may find unpleasant, but instead of getting upset, utilize these words to your benefit to learn and grow. Allow God into your life and grow spiritually. An extensive self-analysis is extremely important. I recommend the 12-steps of AA/NA. All 12-steps are important, but for me, Step 4 is of great importance in the search for sobriety, stability, kindness, forgiveness and respect for others, a love for life and love in general.” – Eduardo R.

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For over 40 years, WestCare California has been providing an opportunity for individuals to lead fuller, richer lives. Our team of multi-cultural, experienced and credentialed staff is dedicated to providing the best care to everyone who enters our doors. Our goal is to uplift the human spirit by providing the skills and support necessary for individuals to achieve their dreams and transform their lives.

WestCare provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in both residential and outpatient environments. Our service domains include mental health & wellness, substance abuse and addiction treatment, housing opportunities, education & prevention, criminal justice and veterans programs. These services are available to adults, children, adolescents, and families.

Our reasons to be “Thankful”

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Our staff, our clients, our supporters, our collaborative partners and our friends! We are Thankful for all of you!  We will never take for granted all of the love, support and memories you have given us over the years and the lessons that you teach us everyday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and please enjoy these stories from three of our WestCare family programs! 

 

11/20 –  Holiday Luncheon at Turtle Lodge

WestCare staff Jeff Estes and Annette Ortega took five clients to celebrate their Native American heritage at a holiday luncheon hosted by Turtle Lodge. There was drumming, good food, old and new friends and plenty of fun to be had that day. Andrea N. got down and dirty during the cherry pie eating contest even though she did not finish her pie first, she gave it a valiant effort. All WestCare clients and staff who attended took a new unwrapped toy to donate to the Toys 4 Tots drive being held there. It was great time for both the clients and the staff.

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11/24 – The Living Room Thanks Volunteers and Donors with a Thanksgiving Luncheon and Gives Back

Staff at the Living Room held a Thanksgiving luncheon to say thanks to their volunteers from MAC Cosmetics who have given their time at The Living Room and to donors and community partners from the Imperial Dove Court who have shown their support throughout the years. After the meal, the remaining food was served to over 60 homeless individuals on Belmont Avenue!

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 11/24 – SJVV Fresno Thanks Their Veterans with a Thanksgiving Luncheon

Staff at SJVV Fresno took the time out of their day to prepare a meal for the veterans that they serve to show just how thankful they are of everything that they have done in their time with the armed services. In all, the staff served over 75 veterans!

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wc-branding_CAFor over 40 years, WestCare California has been providing an opportunity for individuals to lead fuller, richer lives. Our team of multi-cultural, experienced and credentialed staff is dedicated to providing the best care to everyone who enters our doors. Our goal is to uplift the human spirit by providing the skills and support necessary for individuals to achieve their dreams and transform their lives.

WestCare provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in both residential and outpatient environments. Our service domains include mental health & wellness, substance abuse and addiction treatment, housing opportunities, education & prevention, criminal justice and veterans programs. These services are available to adults, children, adolescents, and families.

Strides to Success: Jason V. Santibanez

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Jason S.

“I was faced with the choice to deviate into the self defeating
acts and behaviors of my choosing or to find a way to excel.”

-Jason V. Santibanez

It has taken many years to rebound from the mistakes that I made in my youth. In 1994, I committed a crime that resulted in a 25-to-life sentence plus an additional 7 years; ultimately a 32-years-to-life sentence. I was seventeen at the time I did the crime. By the time the court process was over, I was with-in 30 days of my nineteenth birthday and I was bound to San Quentin to start serving my life sentence.

It was a distinct day for me in 2003 that I decided to turn my will and my life over to the care of what I came to believe was a Higher Power. I was in a cell at Old Folsom and it was my seventh prison institution. I was asking myself if my life amounted to being in a cage for the rest of my life, and it dawned on me, ‘That just don’t make sense.’ Here I am, fully functioning and healthy with basic amenities. Someone with insight beyond my own said I have value and worth. Societies will for me became my Higher Power.

It was not long after that I found myself sitting in administrative segregation (ad-seg). It was a moment in my life that I truly beat myself mentally and emotionally. Internally, I had felt that I had come to a spiritual paradigm shift with my purpose and meaning in life; yet here I was sitting in ad-seg. It was not long until I was on my way to California Men’s Colony-East (CMC). In hindsight, this move to CMC solidified my changed mindset and what I have come to learn through my life experience is that change can be made by environment as much by will and desire.

Up until then, (1994-2003) I had been placed in primarily Level Four Institutions (Maximum Security). Arriving at CMC was like going from Junior High School to College. Inmates were walking all over the place, staff appeared nonchalant and there were announcements over the Public Address System such as Vocations, Yolk Fellows, AA & NA, Peer Education, Education, Prison Industry Authority, Work and School. The entire institution was like an activity hub. I got my start going to what was called Progressive Growth Seminar. By the time I left CMC in 2008, I was a Peer Health Educator. I had completed a vocational trade in Office Services and Related Technologies. I was a Laubach Literacy Trained Tutor. A lot of the intrinsic work I had done came through various correspondence courses including Corrections Learning Network, Federal Emergency Management Courses and Bible correspondence courses from various agencies including the American Bible Academy, Emmaus and Crossroads. Basically, what it boils down to for me is that for my change process, even though it was internal, I had found a supportive environment to cement the process.

I then found myself at Solano and was put in a dorm setting. While other inmates were doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing, my saving grace was my fourth direction in which I dubbed my “Sanity Wall.” I would face that wall at all hours of the day fighting my internal triggers and praying for guidance and deliverance. I was faced with the choice to deviate into the self-defeating acts and behaviors of my choosing or to find a way to excel. My bunkmate was in school. His bottom bunk would be open during the day. I found a way to isolate myself there at times and I managed to get enrolled to Coastline Community College. From there, I found myself a clerical job and started facilitating self-help groups called Project Pride.

First and foremost, it affected me by proxy (being in the right place at the right time) because it allotted a certain amount of money to be used to train inmates to become peer mentors. The money was spent to train inmates to become Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors through The California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (Now known as CCAPP). The first class of mentors for this pilot program was 50 inmates from Solano. I did not apply, but rather made a conscious decision to observe the results and the process. I had seen plenty of pilot programs come and go by that time in various fashions. Overall, by waiting, I witnessed men (prisoners) become scholars, many of which I was living with in the Mentor Building. On one hand I was jealous, on the other I became determined to be in the second class of mentors. In 2010, I became certified as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor- I with the ACADC Institute; one step in the right direction. Then I applied to be selected not once, but three times. Eventually, I was selected to be interviewed to become not only a Peer Mentor, but a certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor with the State of California. I was handpicked amongst thousands of inmates in CDCR for this position of prestige amongst my peers.

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The provider at the time was Human Potential Consultants. In July of 2011, I began my process. I had to go through 90 days of a Substance Abuse Program (SAP). This helped me understand what modeling was as well as what a parallel process is. By the end of October of 2011, I had become a SAP Alumni and the process to become a drug counselor began. This pilot program now called the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) is an expedited process that trained me to become a counselor. The didactic portion consisted of learning the introduction and overview of AOD, law and ethics, physiology and pharmacology, case management, individual group and family counseling and personal and professional growth. The practicum was 255 hours of application of the above principles in each of the 12 Core Functions. By the time I was afforded the opportunity to take the test, it was May of 2012. I passed the test. In July of 2012, I was transferred to Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (SATF) as part of my commitment and vision of AB 900 to spread the knowledge and skill to other treatment programs in the prison system.

I then got certified as a Network Cabling Specialist and eventually found myself on the door step of HealthRight 360 at SATF. I was welcomed as a peer by the mentors and challenged to adjust to my new environment while adopting the Therapeutic Community model of treatment.

From 2008 – 2013, I did manage to stay enrolled in college. In May of 2013, I graduated from Lassen Community College with an Associate of Arts Degree in Social Science. When it came to the Board of Prison Hearings (BPH), they knew I had done the work that reflected in my personal change process. By May of 2014, WestCare became the new provider at SATF and on October 31, 2014, I was released from prison. As of right now, it was less than a year ago. I cannot even come up with all the names of the people who supported me and provided guidance and insights along the way, they were numerous to say the least.

I was released to Tri County Treatment in Oroville 20 years and 9 months after I was initially incarcerated. I never had a driver’s license, never contributed to Social Security, had no assets, was basically penniless and without any tangible adult life experiences as a free person. So, again I turned my will and my life over to the care of those whom I previously believed to be the driving power behind my Higher Power. I followed each and every rule they told me to. I did not ask for exceptions, I did all my assignments as if I never facilitated one of them. By the end of my 90 days at the level Residential Treatment, having been STOP funded via WestCare, I was encouraged to enroll into school. By May of 2015, I finished a semester at Butte College with four A’s and one B. I was also working in my downtime as a temp employee through Express Employment Professionals. I had interviewed or submitted job applications with Kirby-Vacuum Cleaners, Marshalls, Home Depot, the local cannery and any number of other venues in the search for long term viable employment.

Then one fateful day, the Director of Tri County came into my room at the level of Sober Living between 10:00 and 11:00 while I was sleeping off a late night working at a factory in Gridley, with the news that any OMCP graduate on parole could now work for STOP/WestCare funded facilities. Basically, she could legally hire me. I had one more job interview with Salvation Army as a Case Manager before I committed to this new opportunity. In July, I was hired on as Support Staff at Tri County Treatment. Then came the 90 provisional, a review period conducted on behalf of or by CDCR for all employees. I was initially denied the ability to go beyond the title of Support Staff. My Director appealed the process with a 22 page sub-mission and waited. On Tuesday, October 13, 2015, I was instructed to call WestCare personnel in which I was told, ‘You are the first parolee authorized by CDCR to work in the capacity as Counselor to other parolees.’ All I can say is that I had goosebumps and joy.

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I have a professional rapport with WestCare, staff here at Tri County Treatment, Parole, Drug Court, Probation and Behavioral Health. I just recently accumulated enough hours to advance to the level of Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor-I. I continued to maintain my obligation as a Certified Peer Mentor as I continue to serve as a role model of a parallel process for others to reenter society and become productive. I am so thankful to be a part of a vision that is more far reaching then my own. I have been blessed to stay connected to supportive environments that encourage recovery and change. I continue to be guided by the will of my Higher Power as I am committed to aid society as I continue down my path of being recognized as a Change Agent.”

With humility and regards,

Jason V. Santibanez

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For over 40 years, WestCare California has been providing an opportunity for individuals to lead fuller, richer lives. Our team of multi-cultural, experienced and credentialed staff is dedicated to providing the best care to everyone who enters our doors. Our goal is to uplift the human spirit by providing the skills and support necessary for individuals to achieve their dreams and transform their lives.

WestCare provides a wide spectrum of health and human services in both residential and outpatient environments. Our service domains include mental health & wellness, substance abuse and addiction treatment, housing opportunities, education & prevention, criminal justice and veterans programs. These services are available to adults, children, adolescents, and families.

“Welcome Home” by Erin Shelton, WestCare California – Housing Opportunities

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Crystal J.

“Welcome Home”

“Crystal was brought to MAP Point by Tasha Marin at Fresno EOC. Fresno EOC paid for a hotel stay for Crystal and her six year old niece, whom she legally adopted because her mother could no longer care for her. Crystal had been out of work for a long period of time and was just trying to make a better life for her and her niece. Sara Rios of WestCare California was Crystal’s point of contact at MAP Point. Sara scheduled an intake with the ESG program and that’s where i stepped in to help the ESG case managers and completed the intake process for them! Crystal was a very special case because she was handed over to the amazing team (Tasha Marin and Sara Rios). With that being said, Crystal secured housing and came to MAP Point document ready. All that Crystal needed was a little help by caring people and assistance with a deposit. We were able to sign documents with the apartment complex the very next day and move her in that same day! Crystal was so excited, as you can see by the gorgeous smile on her face. She is settling into her new apartment and is so very grateful for the amazing work that the team has done for her and her niece.”

– Erin Shelton, Case Manager, Housing Opportunities

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WestCare California focuses on providing critical and quality services to assist individuals and/or families to quickly regain stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness. Programs such as Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) and Project LiftOFF provide housing and address the multiple needs of homeless adults & their children. WestCare uses the Housing First Model which has proven that homeless and at-risk individuals are more responsive to interventions and social services support after they are housed, rather than as a precondition of housing.

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Multi-Agency Access Program (MAP) is an integrated intake process which connects individuals facing housing, substance abuse, physical health, or mental illness challenges to supportive services matching individuals and families to the right resources at the right time. This is accomplished through an established and formalized collaboration of service providers, leveraging existing community resources, eliminating barriers and assisting consumer’s access supportive services.

“Things Are Not Always As They Appear” by Richard V.

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Don't judge people you never know what kind of battle they are fighting

“When I first arrived at WestCare, it was at the Belmont Facility. In the parking lot, there was at least two dozen people standing around smoking and talking, some with just the clothes on their backs and others with their life’s belongings. New bags, old bags. Long hair, short hair. Tall, short. Red, brown, black, white. Some with all of their teeth, some with no teeth. Some homeless, some with their whole family. Some on bikes, some walking, some in cars. We all had one thing in common: We had the fire down below. We were all dying a slow death. Some of us were there because we were forced to. Some because we had no place to lay our heads. For some, it was their last option with their family. I am here because I want to live. I have a part of me that does not want to let go of life. I am glad that I chose to come here. Now that I am sober, I can see how precious life is. I look forward to my days ahead. I will go on my terms, not my addiction’s. I reached the end of my trail. It was time for a new journey. I look forward to a new beginning.”

Richard V.

From Erin Shelton, WestCare California, Inc. – Housing Opportunities

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We would like to thank Erin Shelton from WestCare California. Inc. Housing Opportunities for her submissions to the blog this week! The pictures and quotes are beautiful.

Uplifting the human spirit

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