CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — The CDC this summer announced that 40 percent of adults reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including anxiety and depression.
The other side of that coin involves the caregivers and family members, who provide care to loved ones or patients struggling with mental illness. That’s where Chagrin Falls-based Courage to Caregivers hopes to not only provide those folks with support but also increase awareness.
“This came about from my own experience,” Courage to Caregivers Founder and Executive Director Kristi Horner said. “I was the primary caregiver for my brother, who lived with anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“He also lived with suicidal ideations for four years. Ultimately, what I say is he lost his battle with mental illness to suicide in 2014. When my family lost him, we just knew that no one should take this journey alone.”
Having lived firsthand with the difficult journey most caregivers experience, Horner created Courage to Caregivers in 2017 to provide others with an outlet that until recently has been a taboo subject for family members only.
“When your loved one is going through cancer treatment, people bring over food and check in with you,” Horner said. “No one does that when your loved one has mental illness. No one is stopping over with groceries, checking in on you, helping you drive to appointments.
“It’s a very isolating experience. We felt like we needed to bring caregivers together and focus exclusively on them.”
Operating under the premise that when caregivers are their strongest and healthiest version of themselves they actually provide better care, the nonprofit provides support regardless of the situation.
“Every time I share my story, 10 people come up to me to say they’ve been living with the exact same thing,” Horner said. “They didn’t know who to talk with or where to share. They tell me, ‘Thank you for sharing your story. You show hope.’
“My story ended in suicide, so how could my story show inspiration and hope? That’s because I’m still here, I’m still strong and I’m willing to talk about it.”
Talking about it is exactly what Courage to Caregivers has in mind to commemorate November being National Family Caregivers Month. The nonprofit’s second annual workshop “Summit 2020: Illuminating Hope in Uncertain Times” targets professional and family members who serve those living with mental illness.
Due to COVID-19, the two-day affair, which is sponsored by the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County, will be a virtual. Online registration is required.
The event features interactive workshops by professional facilitators focusing on connectedness, empowerment and self-care for caregivers.
Topics range from “Empowerment: From Grief to Empowerment” and “Journaling your Journey: Utilizing the Expressive Arts for Healing” to “Breathing Meditation Focused on Compassion Fatigue.”
Anonymity plays a key role in Courage to Caregivers programming, providing loved ones a safe and private space to tell their story.
What’s changed the mental health conversation in recent years is how athletes and celebrities have talked about their own personal battles. Horner said Courage to Caregivers is hoping to build off that momentum.
“Absolutely, the door is cracked open and more people are willing to share their stories, providing hope, courage and inspiration,” Horner said. “At Courage to Caregivers, it starts with your story. We’re here to support you and your story — no matter what that is.”
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