Woman helps those living with mental illness

By Stefanie Bryant | sbryant@ktalnews.tv

Published 06/30 2014 12:00PM

Updated 07/01 2014 12:07AM

Gloria Colon is taking the necessary steps to a better life.  She's a peer counselor at the Volunteer of America's Life Streams day program.  She says, "I like it because I can see the difference in the peers as they grow."

It's growth she's experienced personally. The 58-year old suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  She explains, "Ever since I was a little girl.  I always felt I was different."  She continues, "It explained a lot of my behavior, why I couldn't handle a lot of stress."

Dr. Dennis Wissing, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI, says that includes social stigmas associated with the disease; "Most people don't understand a lot about mental illness."  He says, "If you have a mental health issue, you're relunctant to get help."

It's help, that's decreased in Louisiana.  The state, according to Wissing, is one of only two state's that's seen a decrease in public health funding.  The other state is Arizona.  He says, "We're talking millions of dollars in reduction."

But with proper medication and therapy, most can lead normal lives; and are not the perpetrator when it comes to violent crimes.  In fact, according to one online report, only 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.

Dr. Wissing says, "There's a subset of people definitely violent; but the disease such as schizophrenia and bipolar are not."
Gloria says, "The only difference between me and them is I've been on the road farther."
Gloria says it's been her job and support from family and friends that's helped her make it through;  "I [had] anger so bad, I had to put myself in the hospital to keep from hurting myself or other people. I know now how to conrol my anger."

And through her job, she's helping others get the most out of life.

Dr. Wissing says people need to communicate among family members with mental illness, recognize it and go seek help.

As for funding, there are parish health centers, along with medicare and medicaid that's helped those dealing with mental illness.

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