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Mental health progress recognized
After receiving her honorable mention award, Kathy McAlexander (left) praises Piedmont Community Services mental health support staff for helping her. She was among 25 people recognized at PCS’ second annual Mental Health Supports Celebration of Achievement. Also shown (from left) are Bill Cook (sitting), PCS clinical services director; and Yolanda Millner and Amanda Wagoner, both PCS mental health support specialists. (Bulletin photos by Paul Collins)
Kathy McAlexander has been battling depression, anxiety and phobias.
But she didn’t shyly return to her seat Thursday when she was called up to receive an honorable mention award for progress she has made in meeting her personal goals toward self-sufficiency.
McAlexander, 42, of Bassett, was one of 25 people recognized at Piedmont Community Services’ second annual Mental Health Supports Celebration of Achievement.
With her award in hand, McAlexander smiled broadly and began to speak to the 70-75 people at the ceremony at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Martinsville.
She thanked PCS staff for working to help her overcome her challenges and work toward her goals.
Speaking in public was in itself an accomplishment for her, she indicated in an interview later.
A second accomplishment Thursday was doing this interview with a male reporter. McAlexander, who volunteered for the interview, is combating a phobia about men, she said.
In the past, McAlexander said, “I secluded myself” because of the depression, anxiety and phobias.
One way the PCS program helped her was to understand the importance of taking her medicines as ordered by her doctor, she said. At times, she would take more medicine than she was supposed to when she felt stressed; she also stopped taking her medicine when she felt she was better, only to have the problems recur, she said.
McAlexander also had a phobia about driving after being traumatized by an accident, but she has started driving some again, according to McAlexander and Yolanda Millner, a PCS mental health support specialist.
McAlexander said she “thanks God” for the PCS program. “I hope they keep it for people like us.”
Sixteen PCS clients were awarded certificates for achieving their personal goals, and nine were awarded honorable mention recognitions.
Keynote speaker Joe Pritchett received a certificate for meeting his goals. Pritchett, 59, said in an interview that his years of substance abuse led to mental health problems. “It got to the point I felt isolated from the people who loved me most” and from society, he said.
“I have come a long way ...” he said, adding he has been in recovery for two years.
Piedmont Community Services “has provided me outpatient psychiatric, substance abuse, case management, mental health ... support, medication management, therapeutic treatment groups, links and networking with other facilities, residential housing, transportation, counseling and even referrals for groceries, hygiene and clothing items,” Pritchett wrote.
“... At first, I was reluctant, skeptical and in denial about my condition. Continuing services and a great deal of patience and prodding by the PCS team brought me to the point of accepting life on life’s terms. From that point, I became a willing participant in these programs and my recovery,” he added.
Noting that recovery is an ongoing process, Pritchett said, “My goal is to stay clean.”
In introducing Pritchett for his keynote speech, PCS mental health support specialist Mary Harper described him as “very friendly, always smiling.” She said he enrolled in Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) last fall semester, made all A’s and one B for the year, and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa honorary society for academic achievement. Pritchett is majoring in human services.
Pritchett said in an interview that he aspires to become a substance abuse counselor or other position in the mental health or human services field.
“It’s not often you get two chances in life,” he said.
Wyoming Tarpley, PCS mental health support specialist, said, “If he (Pritchett) continues to improve, we’ll have to (release him). Joe is one of a kind.”
During the ceremony, several PCS officials praised PCS mental health support staff for their dedication and hard work and praised the clients for achieving or making great progress toward their self-sufficiency goals.
Margaret Caldwell of PHCC talked about the importance of having a certificate, license or degree and gave other career planning and motivational tips.
Using the analogies of head, hand and heart, the Rev. James C. Richardson, pastor of Mt. Sinai Apostle Church of Christ in God, urged the PCS clients to receive training, set financial goals and have a life passion to help them achieve success.