Mental Health Stigma Reduction
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Read Michael, Kylene, Rodney, Frank, Allison, Anna, Nicki, and Richard's Stories below
Michael Prichard never thought he would experience joy in his life.
But through spirituality and mental health and recovery activities, he can appreciate all of the gifts life has given him.
Ever since Michael was little, he felt isolated and alone. “I was in a dark place all the time,” he said. “I was just trying to get by.”
He suffered the heartbreaking loss of his father. And childhood secrets involving sexual abuse were like bricks in his pockets, weighing him down. He couldn’t open up to anyone about the trauma he experienced, and he felt as though teachers and adults treated him like he was defective.
“I didn’t feel like I had allies at school or at home,” Michael said. “I was viewed as a ‘problem.’”
At 15, he was diagnosed as bipolar. He turned to substance use to self-medicate and cope with his mental health and unresolved trauma. By age 30, he was spiraling.
“It got to the point where my mom was planning my funeral,” he said.
In that darkness, Michael realized he had a choice: get better or die.
The journey to get better was long and winding. He ended up in prison, but it was where he had a spiritual awakening. And one step at a time, Michael made amends. He found mental health wellness activities that worked best for him. Most of all, he learned how to manage the highs and lows of his diagnosis — coping tools that he continues to use today.
“My pain gave me resilience and purpose,” Michael said. And his past experiences, including his bipolar disorder, has given him a unique perspective in life.
Today, Michael works for the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health and has a loving wife, children and grandchildren. He has also served as Board President of the largest addiction-focused organization in California – something he never could have predicted, but wouldn’t have been possible without his life experiences.
“You never know how it can translate to a life that can help transform other people’s lives,” he said.
Michael acknowledges that everyone is carrying secrets — just like those “bricks” he once held. But they don’t have to be insurmountable problems: talking about your trauma to a trusted person in your life can help, and a mental health diagnosis can be treated. “There are people who can help you and see you as a person with potential,” he said.
And he’s finally healing on a deeper level. For many years, Michael said his dreams always took place in a backdrop of darkness. That all changed recently, when he had a dream about talking to someone in daylight.
“There’s hope on the other side of suffering,” Michael said. “Now, there’s light.”
Good grades. Great parents. Supportive friends.
By all accounts, Kylene Hashimoto’s junior year of high school was going well.
So when she started feeling depressed, she felt like she didn’t have a “reason” for it.
What followed was 5 years of mental health struggles that included 7 psychologists, 5 psychiatrists, 14 different prescribed medications, two 5150 incidents, 16 days in in-patient psychiatric facilities and two suicide attempts.
She even started a rumor that she had cancer because she was determined to end her life — the “good life” she felt guilty for feeling depressed about.
Diagnosis & Healing
Kylene was diagnosed with bipolar depression, and it took years of pain — and the overcoming of it — for her to get to a healthier place.
When Kylene told people she had cancer, she wanted to give people time to say their goodbyes and come to terms with her death. It was also a result of the stigma around mental health: she knew that people would respond much differently to her feelings of depression if she had a “justified reason,” like a physical illness.
Her last stay at an in-patient facility was a turning point. She began the healing process, and continued therapy helped her find the right tools and skills to cope. “I came to terms with the fact that I was going to live with depression,” Kylene said. “And the best way was to manage it, rather than try to get rid of it, or pretend it wasn't there.”
The Wildfire Effect
When Kylene started feeling depressed, she didn’t ask for help at school because she didn’t know that counselors were available (and mental health resources were stretched thin).
“I really wanted help,” Kylene said. “I just didn't know where to go.”
Her experience is what motivated her to start The Wildfire Effect, an organization created to alleviate the challenges of navigating the mental health system. Kylene’s also on the Fresno County Behavioral Health Board, and is on the Youth Innovation Planning Project Committee of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission for the State of California. She does speaking engagements and facilitates workshops, and recently spoke at the Worldwide Women's Festival.
Through her advocacy work, Kylene hopes to highlight other voices to improve mental health treatment for younger people. With more emphasis on early education, future students can have better knowledge about mental health and how to access resources.
As for getting through the present, Kylene shares from the heart as someone who’s been there. “Your mental illness isn’t what defines you… and better days are ahead. Super cheesy, but it’s accurate.”
And though it may not seem like much, talking to someone about how you’re feeling can make a big difference.
“You're not alone,” Kylene said. “And you don't have to have the right words. Just getting it out there can make you feel a lot more relieved.”
Rodney Lowery thought being a tough guy meant holding it all in and not needing to process things.
As part of the Violent Crime Suppression Unit in the ‘90s — a time when violence spiked in the community — he responded to calls in “some of the roughest parts of town.”
But Rodney discovered that it takes much more strength to ask for help.
At 21, while working patrol, Rodney pulled over a vehicle. As he wrote the citation, a person driving under the influence drove right into his path, forcing him to jump into a canal bank. His patrol car erupted in flames, and the driver was killed.
“I could never get that scene out of my head,” Rodney said.
Yet for years, he didn’t talk about it.
“We didn’t talk about critical incidents,” Rodney said. “We didn’t see psychologists. It was ‘go out, have a couple of beers and try to move past it.’” There were more calls to respond to, and no room to process it all.
That incident compounded his feelings of hopeless, and reignited feelings from his childhood. When Rodney was 9 years old, his father died suddenly from a heart attack. He realized how much his past trauma framed how he viewed life as an adult.
It wasn’t until he retired and later returned as a police chaplain that he finally processed those emotions — and recognized the importance of talking through trauma, especially as a child.
Today, Rodney runs the Resiliency Center in Fresno, which helps children and families impacted by trauma get the clinical counseling and mental health services they need to help them heal and become resilient.
“There’s a strong expectation that you deal with [trauma] because you’re tough,” Rodney said. But that’s far from the truth. “I had been stuck in my trauma.”
And he’s determined to make sure that children who experience a traumatic event today can receive help early through counseling, life skills and mentoring through the Resiliency Center.
“I thought I was a pretty tough guy, and mental health impacted me,” Rodney said. “It doesn’t care who you are or how tough you think you are.”
He also emphasized that a “critical incident” can vary from person to person. “We need to give space that different events can impact someone differently,” Rodney said. The same goes for the tools provided to care for someone’s mental health.
“It’s OK to not be OK,” he said. “But it’s even better to ask somebody for help.”
I had chronic debilitating back pain for years from a failed back surgery. I was prescribed narcotics right after the surgery and soon became addicted, a recluse.
My mind and the pain had convinced me that everyone was against me.
I lost my marriage of more than 25 years and began having suicidal thoughts that became harder and harder to control. I moved to a rental we had and wallowed in my pain. I never left the house and talked to no one.
I knew if I didn’t do something I wouldn’t be around much longer.
Fortunately, a couple of people gave me good advice. I decided to stop taking my narcotics cold turkey and started walking. I felt terrible at first but now I walk every day, I eat healthy, and I’ve lost 20 pounds! The best part is that my mind is clearing up. I’m in a good place now, getting better and loving life. I even visited three family members I hadn’t seen in years.
I have a new lease on life. Things are looking up!
THANK YOU FOR LISTENING
On a warm spring day in her back patio, Allison Murphy proudly displayed a framed photo of her daughter, Chloe.
“Chloe was a beautiful bright light,” she said, smiling as she touched the frame.
In 2010, just days before her 19th birthday, Chloe died by suicide. Over a decade later, it’s Allison’s mission to share Chloe’s story — and her own story of loss — to educate the community on her daughter’s personal struggles and suicide prevention.
Chloe was transgender, and she grappled with self-acceptance and her identity. As a student, she never felt comfortable to come out as being transgender, and it was just months before Chloe’s death that Allison learned about her identity. After graduating from Buchanan High School, Chloe moved to Humboldt, where she began to dress as her true self but only within her home.
Although Allison tried to get her daughter into therapy, Chloe chose not to go. “She didn’t feel worthy enough for it,” Allison said. “She didn’t allow herself to have this help.”
After her death, Allison learned from her daughter’s roommates that Chloe showered in the dark with her clothes on. “It pains me to know, as her mom, that she had to go through so much darkness,” she said. “She felt like she couldn't reach out, like she couldn't scream for help.”
Finding Resources & Hope
Until Allison lost Chloe to suicide, she had no knowledge or awareness about suicide prevention. Now, she wants everyone, from parents to principals, to learn the warning signs and start the conversation.
“I can't stress how important to have discussions with your children about suicide prevention,” Allison said. “Kids really need to know that there are resources, that their school or someone will be there for them.” Whether it’s reaching out to a teacher, counselor or someone they trust, she wants students to know that help is here in Fresno County, and that resources are available.
Today, Allison shares her story to educate the community about suicide prevention. She’s also spoken at Fresno State’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, held on November 20. In all of her talks, Allison stresses the importance of learning the warning signs of suicidal thoughts, and the need to have transgender and LGBT discussions to prevent bullying and self-harm.
“Chloe is educating the community in her death,” Allison said. “I’m allowing my daughter's voice to be heard through mine.”
Allison continues to shine a light on the issues the transgender community faces, and the darkness her daughter experienced, to prevent more loss. “I share her story to hopefully enlighten somebody else to think, ‘that could be me.’ Because I never thought it would be my daughter.”
And Chloe’s light lives on in all she does. “I hope that no other parent has to go through what I went through,” Allison said. “I don't want any other Chloes out there to feel like they have no options. I don't want them to feel like the darkness is the way out. You have to fight the darkness.”
For decades Anna Allen suffered in silence. Years of abuse overshadowed any good moments in her childhood. She developed a fear of intimacy that made her afraid of touch (“I didn’t have my first real kiss until I was 30”) and ended up in a marriage that was also abusive.
But today, Anna stands proudly on the other side of the abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder she experienced — and she inspires others today with her story of recovery.
“I Wasn’t Alone”
“I suffered in silence,” Anna said. “I didn't tell anybody, not even my own family, the things that I was going through.”
When she left her husband, she enrolled in the CalWORKS program, a service that helps families with children and provides support for parents to get back on their feet. From there, she was sent to the Employment Services Program, where doctors diagnosed with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and bulimia. She then began attending support groups — something she didn’t think she needed at first. Yet one particular story made her change her mind.
“One of the other clients stood up and was telling her story,” Anna said. “And I remember sitting there, still mad, looking down… I slowly looked up, and I was like, ‘no way. That's my story.’ Then I realized I wasn't alone, that there were other people who have gone through what I've gone through.”
As soon as she found other people with similar experiences, Anna began to participate in group therapy and take her wellness seriously.
The Best Medicine
With the help of group facilitators, her therapist and her case manager, Anna was able to heal and recover from her past. Today, she’s a family peer support specialist, and is a big advocate of peer support because there’s no judgement.
“What I love about peer support is you help people because you know what it feels like,” Anna said. “You've been there, you've done that, you don't judge them.”
Throughout her journey, she said she was “treated like a person, not damaged goods,” and she never felt “less than,” or like a case to be managed.
And since “recovery is a journey, not a destination,” Anna continues to focus on her wellness by also reading books on positivity, self-help and motivation. “I'm stronger now for everything I went through,” Anna said. “I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.”
Know Your Worth
Today, Anna’s confidence, resilience and energy shines through as she shares words of positivity and hope. She reminds others to always remember that they’re valued.
“I'm a big believer that that recovery is possible,” Anna said. “I had my own stigma that I had to fight through to realize my worth. It took a while to get there, but I know what my worth is now.”
Nicki Lujano’s story is a testament that it’s never too late to start the journey to recovery.
For more than 2 decades, Nicki was in and out of programs to get clean. Relapsing over and over, she spent time in jail and lost everything that mattered most to her.
But in 2012, everything changed when Nicki entered a recovery program that included therapy. Little did she know how life-changing it can be.
Therapy Changed Everything
Nicki grew up in an abusive foster home. She suppressed memories of severe childhood trauma and numbed her pain with substance use. But with help from her therapist, Nicki was able to acknowledge her past and overcome her addiction.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Therapy touched on everything that I never wanted to talk about.”
Once Nicki was able to “get all that stuff out,” she was able to complete a crucial step in her healing: finding the ability to forgive her abusers — and herself. By talking about her past and setting small milestones (“it started with the smallest goal: make it to group every day”), she was finally on her permanent road to recovery.
Therapy also provided tools to help her cope with the depression she experienced upon getting clean, as well as alleviate her anxiety. “Crying is healthy,” Nicki said. “And I’ve learned to walk it off and take a deep breath.”
Better Days Ahead
This September, Nicki will have 9 years of recovery. Looking back, she wishes she could’ve started therapy much earlier. “I'm so mad at myself for allowing [addiction] to ruin my whole life,” she said. “If I could have gone into therapy when I was young, maybe I could have gotten past all that stuff, and I wouldn't have taken the road that I did.”
She wants everyone to know that resources are available — and most of all, that it’s OK to ask for help.
“In this day and time, there's no reason for people not to reach out or not to accept help,” she said. “There's so much awareness and it’s not a judgment anymore.”
It’s Never Too Late
Today, Nicki’s a case manager through a local Fresno County provider, where she provides encouragement and hope to people on their road to wellness. And it’s something she’s wanted to do for a long time.
With a beaming smile, Nicki reflected: “I remember being in one of these offices doing treatment, looking at the staff and saying, ‘I wish that was me.’”
And she’s there today, making a positive difference in other people’s lives. Proof that no matter what happens in life, things can get better. “If you want help,” she said, “we're here to help you.”
Richard Bussey never thought he’d live to be 38. When he was diagnosed with HIV a decade ago, he went down a path that led to meth addiction, homelessness and run-ins with the law. But his journey to recovery has led him to a life that’s better than he could imagine.
Diagnosis & Addiction
Before his addiction, Richard was married and went to college. When his relationship ended, he was tested for HIV every 3 months. The third time he went in, he was diagnosed HIV positive.
Not long after his test results, Richard met someone who had meth with them. Based on his family history with substance use, he didn’t think he had an addictive personality. He also lost his self-esteem along the way. “My respect for myself had gotten so low, that I just said, why not?” But all it took was one time to use for him to get addicted.
Finding Help in Fresno
Eventually, Richard was arrested, a turning point where he was introduced to treatment. He met with a provider and got into an inpatient care program. After additional outpatient care and treatment, Richard’s been sober ever since. “I went from being homeless with nothing going for me to having three years [of recovery] this September.”
For Richard, he decided that nothing about his past would ever make him go back. “I was tired of the loneliness, of walking the streets,” he said. Richard also realized that addiction doesn’t just impact the person. “I was always hurting somebody, not just myself, but the people around me.”
In addition to getting clean, he was able to get housing and continued support. Richard was able to connect with a local organization that offers services and assistance for those persons at risk or diagnosed with HIV. Through their help, Richard was able to find a place to live and the support he needed in his recovery. “I highly recommend them to anybody who has questions, needs help getting med compliant or just understanding HIV, because they'll help educate you,” he said.
Healthier & Happier Today
Today, Richard is enjoying all that life has to offer in recovery and checking items off of his bucket list, including jumping out of a plane with two of his best friends to celebrate his birthday. His relationship with his family has also improved.
“Once you get outside of your addiction, you start seeing how amazing life can be,” he said.
His life today reflects a quote that’s stayed with him. “They say addiction is giving up everything for one thing, and recovery is giving up one thing for everything,” Richard said. “I am the best me I've ever been. I'm healthier and happier. I'm better today than I've ever been in my entire life.”
And he stresses that anyone battling addiction, or their own struggles, can turn their life around.
“Anybody can have what I have today,” Richard said. “You just have to want it. Whether it be HIV or your sexuality or recovery, you never go through anything alone. There are people out there who can help, and they're not going to judge you.”
Dick & Sandy
After nearly 40 years, Dick and Sandy Gallagher can tell you every detail of the day they lost their son David to suicide. By sharing their story, they have made an incredible impact: they developed Fresno’s first suicide loss support group, and educated thousands of people across the region about suicide prevention along the way.
Starting the Conversation
David was 17 years old when he took his life in 1984, and his death left the Gallagher family with countless questions.
“We didn't know that much at the time,” Sandy said about recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts. “What did we not do? How did we miss it?”
While they sensed something had changed in their son’s behavior, they had no idea that he would take his life. “We were a very happy family,” Dick said.
Several months after David’s death, their priest invited them to share their story with residents in Oakhurst, as the community had experienced recent suicides. That’s when the Gallaghers discovered the need to have discussions about the topic.
“We didn’t know what to say, so we just spoke our hearts,” Sandy said. “It’s a terrible thing to talk about, but you let it all out. It was healthy for us to talk, and we thought, maybe we can help someone else.”
Educating the Community
In 1985, the Gallaghers founded Fresno Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOS). They met with families just like theirs to provide emotional support, while educating the community about suicide awareness. They also spoke to a variety of professionals, from rotary groups to police and fire departments, because suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone.
And when a news station aired a special about David’s death, a local school district invited the Gallaghers to talk to students. What followed was years of school presentations throughout the area.
“When we’d show his picture, you could hear a pin drop,” Sandy said. Eventually, they met with other people across the nation and brought with them the latest prevention information to share with local schools.
Through the impact the Gallaghers have had on the community and the shift toward having more conversations about mental health, they believe society has come a long way with suicide prevention efforts.
“There's more understanding,” Sandy said. “How many students, how many people have been saved by this knowledge?”
The Gallaghers recommend talking to kids as early as possible about suicide prevention, and discuss the signs to look out for. By starting the conversation in junior high or even grade school, it can make a difference.
“It’s like a secret how you feel,” Dick said. That’s why it’s so important to understand those feelings and talk to a trusted person.
Sandy reminds others, especially younger people, about the importance of sharing your thoughts. “There's help,” Sandy said. “All you have to do is tell somebody. You don't have to tell your mom or dad, but tell somebody. Because there is a wonderful purpose for your life.”
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Fresno County Behavioral Health Access Line 1 800 654-3937
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Fresno County Behavioral Health Warm Line
The DBH COVID-19 Warm Line provides non-emergency emotional and coping support to community members. Warm line operators provide supportive listening, practical coping ideas, and information on how to get connected to behavioral health services.
DBH COVID-19 Warm Line:
- 559-600-WARM (9276)
- Monday - Friday, 8:00AM to 5:00PM
COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
We understand that the recent COVID-19 events can be a particularly stressful time. While protecting your physical health is important, taking care of your mental health is just as vital to your overall well-being.
The Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) has plans in place to inform and protect all residents, limit exposures to any new cases if identified, and address concerns as they arise. This health crisis will require everyone to play a role during this challenging time— we urge everyone to practice social distancing and good hand hygiene at all times, and stay home as much as possible to prevent catching or passing on the infection.
To help County residents during this time, please visit the following resources on how to care for your mental health, coping tips and how to find additional help:
Guidance and Resources
1 in 5 adults experience mental illness.
Now more than ever, it’s time for us to talk about it.
Every day, millions of people face stigma related to mental health because they or their loved ones are facing a challenge. Many of these people feel isolated and alone, going years before receiving any help.
Even though there’s a greater knowledge of mental illness and treatment, many people who live with bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia and other conditions still face barriers in public attitudes. This stigma can keep them from seeking help.
Our goal is to amplify the voices of all people who want to put an end to this stigma. You can help us create a community where everyone feels comfortable reaching out for the support they deserve. Together, we can work to normalize mental health issues in Fresno County, and help reduce the stigma surrounding it. We want to educate Fresno County residents on where to find services and how to access community resources for mental health support.
Check in with your family and friends. No matter the distance, you can always reach out through a phone call, text or video chat.
Here are a few ways to help you think about what you would like to say to your loved one:
“For the past (day / week / month / year), it seems like you’ve been feeling (unlike yourself / sad / anxious / overwhelmed / moody / lonely / etc.)…”
“I would like to help you (talk to a doctor, therapist or guidance counselor / figure out what to do / talk about this again / create a plan to get better / find a support group.) What can I do?”
“Talking to you about this makes me feel (nervous / embarrassed / guilt / etc.) but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about you / it’s affecting our relationship / I don’t know if anyone else has talked to you about this)…”
“I’ve noticed your (change in appetite / weight loss or gain /substance use / change in sleep / risky sexual behavior / isolation / talk of self-harm or suicide / etc.)…”
“You seem to be struggling with your (health / loss of a loved one / job loss/etc.)…”
Check In On Your Own Mental Health
- Recognize Your Own Emotions & Feelings
- There’s No Shame in Asking for Help
- Take a Free Mental Health Screen at mhascreening.org
What is Stigma?
In order to understand the reasons behind why people wait so long to receive help for mental health needs, it’s important to understand the concept of stigma. Research tells us that the largest barrier to reaching out for mental health needs is stigma.
- Stigma is a way of thinking that says that certain people are less deserving of our respect.
- Stigma comes from negative and incorrect beliefs, or stereotypes, about groups of people.
- Fear of being left out or picked on because of who you are is stigma.
- The effects of stigma can make you feel sad, ashamed or alone.
Stigma can be seen in the attitudes of those around us toward mental illness, but also in the way we judge our own challenges with this issue. Stigma can be found in numerous places and there are many types of stigma:
Self-stigma: refers to attitudes and beliefs within yourself. For example, someone who is experiencing mental illness may think that they are unable to live a fulfilling life because of their condition.
Public stigma: refers to the attitudes and beliefs of the general public towards persons with mental health challenges or their family members. For example, the public may assume that people with psychiatric conditions are violent and dangerous.
Institutional stigma: refers to an organization’s policies or culture of negative attitudes and beliefs. For example, stigma is often reflected in the use of clinical terms, such as a “schizophrenic.” It is preferable to use “people first” language, such as “a person experiencing schizophrenia.”
Resources for Stigma Reduction
Each Mind Matters - Each Mind Matters is California’s Mental Health Movement. We are millions of individuals and thousands of organizations working to advance mental health. The mental health movement certainly didn’t start with us, but Each Mind Matters was created to unite all of us who share a vision of improved mental health and equality.
NAMI -NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
Mental Health America - Mental Health America (MHA) - founded in 1909 - is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans.
Walk In Our Shoes - Are you curious about what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes? Do you want to learn about other people’s lives? Curiosity and learning are great, so lace up, strap on, or slip on your sneakers and let’s learn about mental health. Learning about other people can help you understand that they’re still a lot like you — they’re just on a journey in different shoes.
Directing Change - The Directing Change Program starts with exposing youth to knowledge about the topics of mental health and suicide prevention by providing instructional tools to educators, educational resources to youth, and additional resources to further learning about the basic components of suicide prevention. From here, youth must apply suicide prevention knowledge to formulate and create their own unique message about suicide prevention for their peers.