Stephany Henderson’s children and grandchild gave her the courage to speak in front of a roomful of strangers about her anxiety. Glenda Johnson proudly held up a photo of her son, Kevin, who was diagnosed with mental illness as a toddler and will graduate from high school this year. Clifton Ferguson displayed some of the artwork he makes when his world grows dark.
Each are clients of Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare System, Inc., and they testified to the importance of the mental health non-profit at its annual “Supporting Mental Health Awareness” event on Tuesday.
In operation for 53 years, SABHS serves 3,500 active clients in Arkansas, Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Jefferson counties. It boasts 80 full-time employees, including three full-time psychiatrists, as well as a 24/7 on-call service. It offers outpatient services that include diagnostic assessment, psychiatric and psychological evaluation, substance abuse treatment and ongoing counseling for individuals, families and couples.
The staff works closely with Jefferson Regional Medical Center to coordinate outpatient treatment programs with patients who have been hospitalized, and a case management team of paraprofessionals observes patients in their homes to determine how they are faring in the community. Its Pine Bluff clinic is located at 2500 Rike Avenue next to Southeast Arkansas College.
SABHS President and CEO Kathy Harris said the annual “Supporting Mental Health Awareness” day is about both thanking the partners they work with and for making mental health a topic of conversation.
“We’re here, we’re available and we want people to feel comfortable talking about mental illness,” Harris said. “When you’re in a group of individuals, not many people pop up with, ‘Hey, let’s talk about mental illness.’ It’s usually a subject that’s avoided. So we want to make it more comfortable for individuals to talk about, to know about resources and services. And people can access treatment.”
Many of SABHS’s patients are chronically mentally ill adults. Their disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, Harris said. Children are also treated for illnesses such as depression, attention deficit disorder and oppositional defiant disorders, which is found in children and teens who are unusually angry, defiant and vindictive.
Part of the non-profit’s mission is to help the public understand that mental illness is something that happens and that is often treatable.
“It’s often frightening, or people are reluctant to engage with persons who have mental illness,” Harris said. “And so if we can help alleviate some of those misconceptions, those misunderstandings, the stigma that is associated with mental illness, [we try].”
Henderson said that she couldn’t believe she was getting up in front of a room full of more than 100 people at the event, which took place Tuesday afternoon at the SABH clinic on Rike Avenue.
“There’s a stigma,” Henderson said. “A lot of people get ashamed, they’re embarrassed, and don’t want to let it be known what is going on with them. And I have been unfortunately one of those. But, because of my children and because of my grandchild, I got the courage to do what needs to be done and speak up.
“Do not be ashamed of any problems that you’re having, do not be ashamed to ask for help. There is help out there.”
Johnson said despite first dealing with mental health obstacles beginning in preschool, things were looking up for her son.
“Kevin is well on his way,” Johnson said. “As long as he operates and applies the tools he has been given by this establishment, he’s gonna be okay.”
Ferguson displayed some of his drawings and other artwork for the audience. Making art helps him to channel negative thoughts or problems he is going through, he said.
“It seems like the angrier I am, the better [the art] is,” he said later.