National Minority Mental Health Month 2014

  • This year I share Ashley Smith's story in her own words:


    My Hope & Recovery

    By Ashley Smith


    I’ve heard too often that African Americans tend to disown the existence of mental illness and to justify this philosophy by faith and religion. There is a common idea that people should not engage in treatment and medication because faith and healing rituals alone can cure these conditions. Some individuals’ belief may take it in an even more negative way by believing the person with mental illness is demonic. Despite the fact that I am African American, I have not had a lot of negative experiences.

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    I received a lot of support throughout the development of my recovery. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 20 I was empowered and supported by my treatment team and family. The individuals I interacted with while I was receiving treatment believed I could recover and live a fulfilling life. In fact, my doctor made going back to college an option for me if I learned how to cope with stress and to practice a medication regimen.


    In addition to receiving that spark of hope for my future, my mother envisioned me sharing my testimony with others about ‘how I made it through.’ These talks gave me a lot of hope and set the expectation for what would progress into my lifestyle of recovery to this day.  


    Today I am 27 years old. I live independently and work part-time as a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) in Atlanta. I am also a single parent. Over the course of my recovery my hope of living a fulfilling life was put into practice with the support of my family, treatment team, and by participating in a clubhouse, and attending many support groups and trainings.


    I stayed involved in a clubhouse for almost a year and was involved in different classes such as Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). The WRAP class offered guidance on how to maintain recovery and to plan for crisis. The most intriguing fact about the class was that it was facilitated by individuals who were also in recovery like me! The WRAP class encouraged me to learn how to support peers by leading classes on recovery.


    After I moved home with my family I became a member of NAMI Georgia, otherwise known as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Immediately, I got involved in the organization by volunteering to facilitate and mentor recovery education classes. This training led me to other trainings such as how to lead support groups, share my recovery story, and several other projects and volunteer assignments including taking on other leadership roles such as state trainer for In Our Own Voice (IOOV) and my participation on the board of directors, which I currently serve.


    NAMI Georgia gave me many opportunities within the mental health field which eventually overflowed into working with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc. by participating in their CPS training, and Respect Institute training and speakers bureau.


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    These experiences helped me build my self-confidence, career focus, and to learn how to maintain recovery.  To maintain my wellness I occasionally attend support groups, I listen to music online a lot, volunteer with NAMI Georgia and the Respect Institute, and share my concerns with family and friends. Now I frequently share my recovery story with diverse audiences to offer hope and reassurance that life in recovery can be healthy and fulfilling.


    My new focus is on maximizing my recovery by enhancing self-care by setting aside more time for myself, which can be challenging because I am always busy with work, volunteering, and being a single mother, but is not impossible!


    Recently, I self-published my book, What’s on My Mind? A Collection of Blog Entries from “Overcoming Schizophrenia.” The book shares my recovery story in a quick read that details my life from my hectic beginning of being arrested, hospitalized, and diagnosed with schizophrenia. The book condenses my story as read on my blog “Overcoming Schizophrenia.” My book is available on Amazon.


Published On: July 17, 2014