World Mental Health Day: One woman's story of recovery and giving back

Frontier Health Senior Vice President Ginger Naseri speaks with News Five's Thomas Gray.

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - Tuesday was World Mental Health Day: a day to raise awareness for mental illnesses, those who suffer from them, and the challenges they face.

Tens of thousands of people were treated locally for mental illnesses last year. For Julie Fann, her lifelong struggle with mental health has made her want to help others recover.

"My father had severe mental illness from the time I was nine," Julie Fann said.

Fann experienced trauma at an early age. She said she suppressed the feelings of fear and sadness for years.

"When I was 17, all those feelings started coming up for me," Fann said. "They came up in a really extreme way of severe and chronic anxiety."

After her father's death when she was 27, Fann began taking medication to help with her symptoms. She was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Fann became a peer counselor years later. She now helps others recover from similar problems.

"Because I have lived experience myself, I can empathize and identify with their pain," Fann said. "I sort of represent hope."

According to the National Alliance for Mental Health, one in five American adults experience a mental illness, affecting 43.8 million people. 60 percent of them do not receive needed treatment.

Records from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, more than one million people in Tennessee have a mental illness and 354,000 abuse drugs or alcohol.

Experts at Frontier Health said the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region needs expanded access to care.

"I think there are opportunities to improve our access to care as a region and as a community, but I think for a big part the bigger barrier is the stigma related to that," Frontier Health Senior Vice President Ginger Naseri said.

She added that people often feel seeking help for mental illness is a sign of weakness or cause for embarrassment. Fann said that she believes mental health should be regarded no differently than physical health, and people should seek treatment for symptoms.

One doctor said that he believes access to substance abuse rehabilitation needs to be expanded. He said he's seen patients forced to wait as long as three months to get into recovery programs.

Fann said she finds the work of helping people recover rewarding.

"What I do is something I feel like all humans should do all the time," Fann said. "Offer people hope, listen to them when they're hurting, help them grow."

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