Caroline Cooper, Executive Director
The reality of mental illness
I experienced intermittent depression and mood swings from a young age. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s these signs were merely accepted as the moodiness of a child and adolescent. Through college and after marriage, I continued to struggle with my moods. I received occasional therapy and medication but did not feel it made a difference so was not consistent with treatment. In the summer of 2002 my condition nose-dived into severe depression. For the most part, I was unable to leave my bedroom, but I was afraid people would find out how much I was struggling so made occasional appearances at church or in public. My husband and four children suffered along with me, not knowing how to help.
The road to healing
In September of that year, I finally pushed myself to a therapy session, crying all the way there. I was obviously distraught and couldn’t speak because of my emotional state. The therapist immediately referred me to a 10-day outpatient program at a local psychiatric hospital. During those ten days, I learned to accept events from my past and forgive those who had hurt me. I felt like I was back in school, which I loved, so quickly embraced new tools, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), relaxation techniques, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). After the ten days, I worked with my doctors to develop a treatment plan for continued treatment. My journey to healing had begun.
Paying it forward
After several more years of treatment, I was moved to start a faith-based depression support group to help others. The group offered support and encouragement to its members. It also included a time for lessons on improving mental health along with Bible study. Jane Alexander, co-founder of Mental Health Connect of Missouri (MHCMO), joined the group several years later. Jane and I felt an immediate connection which was instrumental in the nonprofit’s formation.
A nonprofit is born
Over the years, as I healed, I began to pursue my dream of starting a nonprofit. The journey included receiving certification as a peer specialist (CPS) and working for a year in a behavioral health facility. It was at this time that Jane contacted me with an idea to hold a mental health symposium at her church. We were happy to reconnect with a common goal. That event served as the kick-off of our new nonprofit.
I love my life. My husband and I have been married for over 35 years. We have four children and three grandchildren. Many of our free-time activities revolve our serving at our church.
Jane Alexander, Mental Health Coordinator
An unexpected event
In April 2007, after trying other conservative treatments for back pain, I was given a steroid injection. Three days later, I experienced a “steroid rage” while I was on duty as an x-ray tech. Later that same day, my rage became a psychosis, causing me to become out of touch with reality. I was then taken to the emergency room at the hospital where I worked. Because of the shortage of “psych beds” in Kansas City, I was taken by ambulance to Cushing hospital in Leavenworth, KS. I stayed (as an inpatient) for five days.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which was probably an undetected health issue that “surfaced” after receiving the steroid injection. After returning to work, I continued to experience behavioral issues (although I was prescribed medication); talking and laughing loudly, racing thoughts, and episodes of rage. In October of 2007, I lost my job because of a mental illness.
With the exception of losing my parents, I have never known such emotional pain. Panic, anxiety and fear took over my thoughts, and I felt that my self–worth had been destroyed. (What have I done? What shall I do?) The reality was I didn’t “do” anything. I was NOT of a sound mind, meaning my diagnosis (and other’s) is probably hereditary. I did not ask for it.
An advocate for mental wellness
Today, like my colleague Caroline, I am an advocate for mental wellness. We both have drawn from our own experiences and can usually relate to a person who is learning to live with a mental illness. Listening and showing compassion are key.
MHCMO offers encouragement and education for people and their loved ones. We can help direct a person who may need professional help, or suggest a support group or even pastoral care.
My home life includes being a housewife, a volunteer at church, and mental health coordinator for Mental Health Connect of Missouri.