May is Mental Health Month, which has me thinking a lot about my own experience. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder two years ago, but have been battling my illness for a majority of my life. It was difficult for me to function in a way that seemed to come naturally to those around me. I would often spend weeks in bed, resulting in significant absences from school, work, and other appointments. Halfway through college it became obvious to me that I would not graduate if something didn’t change. So I sought help.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up with a supportive family who’ve made every attempt to understand my illness despite how difficult it could be to deal with at times, or how foreign it is to them. It’s because of my family’s support that I was able to receive the life-saving care that I needed.
I am often consumed with thoughts about where I’d be if I didn’t have this support system. What if I never had access to the doctors and medications that saved my life? Sadly, a majority of those suffering from mental illnesses aren’t in this position at all. Over 7,000 individuals are homeless in DC at any given time, and of those, more than half are suffering from an untreated mental illness or chronic substance abuse. Living with a mental illness is hard no matter what situation you’re in, but the instability, lack of proper nutrition, and feelings of stress and isolation that homelessness can bring are all factors that exacerbate mental illness. It’s made worse by the fact that mental wellness can’t be a priority when finding food and shelter must come first.
Many of the people we serve here at Thrive DC struggle with a mental illness. Some have been diagnosed, but others have not. I’m no different from them. But I was given a chance at recovery. It’s heartbreaking to see the suffering and unrealized potential of homeless individuals, and to know that recovery is possible, but not always accessible.
This is why Thrive DC is so important to me. It gives a chance to those who have been previously overlooked. People who are suffering can come here to receive a smile, a nutritious meal, a shower, and any emergency supplies they may need. Our substance abuse group counseling and case workers who connect clients with outside services help to provide stability for those who otherwise are living in very unstable circumstances. Having a safe, supportive environment to work on wellness as well as gaining access to mental health services is vital to managing mental illness.
Everyone deserves a chance at wellness. For our clients, Thrive DC is that chance.