Mental health services have life-changing impact.
Meet the Gardner Family
Richard Gardner has learned a lot about himself through mental health treatment. He now volunteers to increase awareness about mental illness in his Berks County community. He is part of the cohort most affected by cuts to mental health services, white middle-aged males, which historically has the highest suicide rate of any other regionally and nationwide.
Richard thrives with bipolar II disorder, even though it occasionally causes him to switch suddenly from depressed to manic, and even both at the same time when he is stressed. He’s not alone: several members on both sides of his family, including two of his children, have mental health issues.
In 2008, after he finished a master’s program in ecology he moved in with his brother in New Freedom, Pa. Richard began to experience adverse reactions to his surroundings – stressed by isolation and lack of money. Despite his housing arrangement, he received little emotional support from his family. York County Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities department provided Richard with a psychologist, who talked with him through his ongoing issues and provided counseling he needed to understand himself. At this time he was also “voluntarily” hospitalized.
“My psychologist helped me move forward,” he says. “Without assistance from the county, the results of what I went through and to some extent still go through could have easily resulted in suicide.”
While attending Millersville University after moving from his brother’s home, Richard met his mate Heather on a dance floor. Shortly thereafter, he moved in with her in Upper Bern Township, Berks County. Since then, he has adopted a healthy lifestyle, including daily exercise and an improved diet. ”If I were to go into another episode which I cannot control, it is good to know that my wife and I have options to help us move forward. As is, I am a fully participating member of society and intend to stay this way,” he says.
Richard, now almost 60, is a full-time volunteer, serving as the vice president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Berks County, and as a member of the Berks County and Lebanon County Suicide Prevention Task Forces. The task forces are groups of community leaders in each county that have come together to focus on the needs of the community to eliminate stigma of mental illness and put an end to suicide. He is their reality check. Richard frequently speaks about his personal experiences and talks to others about how suicide may be prevented.
“Teaching coping, relationship and life skills with self-knowledge of when a suicidal episode is beginning to manifest itself is essential in preventing suicide in people like me,” he says.
Beyond this, Richard is an advocate for a different perspective on mental health issues, minimal medications and learning to live with his gifts and use them for the good of the community. “I view this as a gift,” Richard says, “one shared by many of our nation’s founders such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones and very probably George Washington. Every gift has a price.” Richard has been willing to pay that price.