Valley residents share stories of stigmas, growthSFlb

By William K. Alcorn


Maureen Boals went to the hospital emergency room in pain, but when medical personnel couldn’t immediately pinpoint the cause of the pain and found her psychiatric medications, they told her the pain was in her head.

A few days later she was back in the emergency room where further tests discovered that a cyst on her ovaries had burst. She was admitted to the hospital and her ovaries were removed.

Sherri Yash of Warren said when she was diagnosed with major depression and later alcoholism and bipolar disorder, her parents didn’t want anyone to know.

“I felt like I was dirty or something when my family didn’t want to talk. I was very ashamed,” she said.

“For two years things have been pretty good. I’m surrounded by mental-health people, my medications are working, I am getting counseling and I’m not drinking,” Yash said.

She works as a monitor at Trumbull County residential support facilities, lives independently with other family members, and takes care of a couple of dogs, including a Kit, a pit bull/Labrador who was rescued in a raid by the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County.

“Kit’s a good therapy dog, and he’s good therapy for me too. He’s my buddy,” she said.

Boals said she started crying at work one day and couldn’t stop. She was a Sunday School teacher andr Girl Scout leader and had a full-time job. She was 27. Her family doctor sent her to a psychiatrist who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.

Today at 50, she is a recovery assistant with the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, where she has worked 13 years.

Boals and Yash are participating in the “Stop the Judgment - Start the Healing” anti-stigma campaign aimed at combatting the myths and perception of mentally ill residents.

Their stories are examples that the stigma of mental illness exists, they said in separate interviews.

The campaign is a collaborative project of the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board and the Mahoning County Mental Health Board.

Boals and Yash appear on television spots telling their stories in an effort to combat the myths perpetuated in movies and elsewhere that mentally ill people are crazy and need straitjackets.

Some people with severe mental illness can’t function well in society, but most mental illnesses are treatable and enable most people to lead normal lives, they say.

Yash of Warren, a licensed practical nurse who “really loved patient care,” worked in nursing homes and did home-health care and private-duty nursing. She also battles alcoholism, and her time on the job decreased as the mental illness got worse. Her last job was in telecommunications. She was diagnosed with major depression in 1993 and bipolar disorder in 2004.

“I dealt with this myself for 17 years. I wanted counseling, but the alcohol always won,” she said.

Boals said if she didn’t have her medication and support from her church and family and at work, she would not be able to work full time.

“If I couldn’t obtain treatment and medications so my mental illness can be under control, I would not be able to work and support myself and be off Medicaid, housing assistance and social security,” she said.

Boals shares her story with high school students and community groups.

One of the things she tells them is that the mind is part of the body, and just like a physical illness, a mental illness can be treated; there are different doctors for different physical illnesses.

“They are amazed. They never looked at it that way,” she said.

Boals said people with mental illness are portrayed as those who can’t function and are dangerous.

Some people with mental illnesses have severe problems and can not function normally, but the majority are active and productive members of society contributing to the community and fulfilling their adult roles, she said.

“My family didn’t understand what was gong on, but neither did I. I lost some friends and some stuck by me. I’m a stronger person for what happened,” Boals said.

When she talks to groups, Yash says she asks how many people in the room are on medications like hers.

“I just want them to know I am like them. I love life. I am a human being, and I matter.”

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