wellness going to get worse over your lifetime, so you need to take these pills, follow this prescripted expert advice and lower your expectations regarding what sort of quality of life or experiences you can have.’” he said. “The basic idea was, ‘You’re not going to get any better, so let’s try to mask the symptoms.’ Tate said medical treatment is still an important piece of the puzzle, but that “the wellness model says mental health ‘consumers,’ or patients, have valuable insight and should be able to have some say in their treatment. People can learn to live with their symptoms, hang on to hope that recovery is possible, and succeed in society. “Success means something different for every individual … for some people, it may mean being a CEO, and for others it might just mean getting out of bed every morning.” Six days a week (the center is closed Sundays), the building is filled with dozens of people at various points along their personal paths to wellness. The CN&R spent several days at the center last month speaking to staff, volunteers and members about their experiences with mental illness, their struggles, and their successes. Here are just a few of their stories.
A dangerous gift Tate’s own life has been profoundly impacted by mental illness. His father, who he described as “brilliant, accomplished and talented,” was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and ultimately took his own life when Tate was just 3 years old. His father’s illness, as well as experiences with other loved ones who’ve struggled with mental health challenges, provided the impetus for Tate’s involvement in the mental wellness field. He previously worked with family- and youth-oriented programs for NVCSS and Youth for Change, started at the Iversen Center in 2011 as a case manager, and became program manager there in 2015. For much of its existence, the center functioned as a drop-in facility, offering varying levels of support and services over the years. It was founded by Behavioral Health in 2009 with funding from the Mental Health Services Act. Approved by California voters in 2004, the MHSA, or Proposition 63, established a
Andrea Wagner has experienced her own personal difficulties on her way to becoming a mental health professional. She edits and contributes to the Diverse Minds journal, which features art and writing created by members of the Iversen Center and other centers in Northern California. PHOTO BY KEN SMITH
tax of 1 percent on private incomes exceeding $1 million annually, with funds earmarked for community-based mental health services. MHSA funding remains integral to the center’s ongoing operation, Tate said. Activity has incrementally increased since NVCSS assumed oversight of the center in 2013. That’s due in part to Tate’s tireless efforts, though he’s quick to credit the success to its members. He noted the center is largely governed by an advisory board made up of seven elected members from the center’s community, and that most of the activity and support groups—the core of the Iversen Center’s services—are likewise determined by members. “Over half of our groups are run by members that we train and support to run them. Every group is grassroots … like, if someone
says they wish we had an anxiety support group, we say, ‘Great, why don’t you run one?’” Tate’s early and ongoing experiences with mental health have helped him develop a unique view of those with mental disorders: that they are the recipients of a “dangerous gift.” “Many people find some aspects of their mental illness give them insights that allow them to see a different part of the human experience than people who don’t have those symptoms,” he said. “It can be beautiful, but of course it’s dangerous. Suicide and selfharm are huge risks for people with mental health issues, and there’s dangers to livelihood and difficulties engaging with culture and society. “The wellness model says that’s all true, but there’s also some insight, beauty, grace and creativity that comes from this.” To foster those positive aspects, the center offers arts-oriented groups of all kinds—music, writing, sewing and arts and crafts—alongside more traditional therapy and support groups. The center also orga-
nizes regular public events, like an annual Wellness and Recovery Fair and Diverse Minds showcases. For those who doubt the positive contributions of those with mental illness, Tate sometimes presents a challenge: “Name a great artist who hasn’t been affected by mental illness.”
Building community, sharing stories Andrea Wagner works as an outreach coordinator and peer assistant for NVCSS and a behavioral health counselor for Butte County, having recently transferred from the latter agency’s Psychiatric Health Facility (PHF, or “Puff Unit,” as it’s colloquially known) to Crisis Services. She’s also facilitated the Iversen Center’s weekly writing group and served as editor of three published collections of writing and art created by that community. She is well-versed in the effects of mental illness, having herself endured a HOPE C O N T I N U E D FEBRUARY 8, 2018
O N PA G E 2 2