Our guest today is the co-author of Defying Mental Illness: Finding Recovery with Community Resources and Family Support. Andrea Schroer teamed up with Paul Komarek to bring you this much needed book to help families struggling with mental illness. On Andrea’s LinkedIn page I read, “It has been my mission to impact the lives of youngsters in what I now consider to be my home. My hope is that I can continue to act as a facilitator to students learning in order for them to become competent and successful citizens.” This is an amazing goal in life and I am pleased that Andrea agreed to take part in our Author Interview Series so we can learn more about this young woman. My review of Defying Mental Illness is here.
Lorna: I am so glad that you answered my Twitter message and agreed to this interview! Congratulations on your fine book and thank you for making available such a valuable resource for all who are struggling with mental illness. Tell us about your studies and field of work and what led you to co-author a book about mental illness.
Andrea Schroer >> I am blessed to have lived and worked in six different countries. My parents are international educators and I grew up as what is called a “global nomad”. Naturally, I gravitated towards education, but also had a great interest in the realm of Psychology. I received my degree in Psychology with certification in Elementary (Primary) Education. I taught on and off for ten years in four US states and one foreign country (Germany). When I was not teaching, I was still involved in educational programming for children in the non-profit and for-profit sectors.
Lorna: You have lived an adventurous life! I am sure your unique upbringing and various jobs throughout the US and in Germany have enriched your life and make you a better educator. Again on LinkedIn I read, “I am a part of committees that are currently looking at the Pyramid of Intervention and how this coupled with other supports–such as counseling, can lead to academic achievement for a child.” Would you explain the Pyramid of Intervention and your work in helping children?
Andrea Schroer >> Since vernacular in the education field always changes, US Departments of Education are now terming the “Pyramid of Intervention” as “Response to Intervention (RTI)”. The National Dissemination Center defines it as,” a process that schools can use to help children who are struggling academically or behaviorally. One of its underlying premises is the possibility that a child’s struggles may be due to inadequacies in instruction or in the curriculum either in use at the moment or in the child’s past. « My mission has always been to help provide the best academic experience possible for all children, RTI helps students succeed and feel more confident in their learning process. I have helped to implement reading and math programs that speak to the areas where a child is struggling the most. These programs always end up being a tremendous amount of fun for the students.
Lorna: You have a very noble mission! You have worked with “after school programming”. Tell us its value to a community and what some communities offer so others can strive to better their own programs.
Andrea Schroer >> The value of after school programming to communities is plentiful. Children want to be engaged in activities; boredom often leads to trouble. I worked for three non-profit agencies in the Cincinnati area that, through grant programs, were able to provide comprehensive after school activities to a plethora of low-income individuals. These programs were laden with authentic academic projects and were also able to provide community service learning opportunities, arts programs, physical activities, field trips, technology clubs, and leadership opportunities. All of this and many of the programs were still able to provide a daily snack or even meal.
Lorna: In the book you write about mental illness and how to recover from it with respect for the individuals and give advice on confronting the challenges of the stigma surrounding mental illness which taunts and taints most connected with it. What will it take to erase this stigma and make people understand and accept this illness like all the others like cancer or diabetes?
Andrea Schroer >> Stigma is something that I believe takes many years to change, and I do not know if stigma can fully be erased. I truly feel that in order for mental illness to be treated like any other physiological disease, we need to increase awareness by educating even more on the multiple afflictions that effect so many of us around the world. I am very pleased that individuals like yourself use technology to educate others on such topics. I think technology has the power to change minds. I also think that people have to try to squash fears they might have in talking about their own struggles. So many individuals hide the fact that they may have suffered a bout of depression or are currently in counseling, but it is surprising that when you are brave enough to talk you come to find out that you have a lot in common with the person sitting next t o you.
Lorna: One is ten Americans experience a mental disorder serious enough to affect work, school or family life every year. Adequate treatment and support, especially in rural areas, is sorely lacking. Have you seen positive changes these past few years regarding this? What still needs to happen so those in need of help get it in a timely fashion?
Andrea Schroer >> In recent years, I have seen more of a focus on peer-to-peer support, a continuance of group therapy sessions through non-profits and medical centers, and health insurance including mental health care in their policies. We still need to approach our law makers and lobby for system changes because we are still a long way off of getting the treatment we deserve. For example, someone very close to me who is not yet of retirement age, has had the stigma of mental illness placed upon him because he requires medicine for chronic depression. He is privately insured and has to pay several thousands of dollars out-of-pocket monthly solely based on his condition. In these modern times, this is ridiculous. Mental health care should be readily available to all at a reasonable price.
Lorna: A section in your book explains Peer Services (page 105): Peer-to-peer support, calling a WARMLINE, Trained Peer Specialists… there is so much individuals who want to help can do. Would you please elaborate?
Andrea Schroer >> What better way can one ask to receive help, than from someone who has or is going through the same situation as themselves? Non-profit agencies such as NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and MHA take the time to train individuals so that they may act as a safety net when one is having a mental health crisis. Much like other phone-in crisis centers, WARMLINES work the same way. So, individuals may receive help even if they are unable or unwilling to travel somewhere to see someone face-to-face. All depending on your country of origin, doing a Google search or looking through you phone book will most likely get you this kind of help. It may not be the same as going to a counselor, but it is a start at recovery.
Your health care professional, schools, and organizations such as NAMI and MHA can be incredible resources to providing counseling to children going through a mental health episode.
Lorna: The book says, “Expect to recover one day at a time”. You start by giving the reader four questions to start their road to recovery. One of these questions is, “How can you improve your ability to cope with stress?” What are some of the best ways you can help a youth who is having a difficult time and is struggling daily… what advice for coping with stress can parents give this youth?
Andrea Schroer >> It is important not to push medication as a quick fix to the issue. I have seen youngsters affected extremely negatively by being given a pill because care takers are unwilling to take the time to figure out alternatives to healing. Your health care professional, schools, and organizations such as NAMI and MHA can be incredible resources to providing counseling to children going through a mental health episode. It is also important not to push a child into talking about what they are going through. They may not want to talk to Mom, Dad, or Grandpa. Instead, providing an empathetic ear in the form of a mental health professional could be the best therapy possible. I would say to try to keep routines as much as possible and to still be available to listen and not judge is the best course to take. I would let the youth know that they are not alone and that help is available to them if they need it. Of course, if there is talk of harming themselves or someone else, a suicide prevention hotline or a visit to the emergency room would be in order.
Lorna: Thank you so much for taking part in our interviews! What is on Andrea Schroer’s To-Do list for the coming months? Tell us how to follow you online and where can we buy your book.
Andrea Schroer >> I will continue to help Paul Komarek in any way I can to get this book out to the masses because I believe it is such an important topic. I also intend on keeping the individual who is helping to complete the Spanish language version of the text on track. I need to find an illustrator for a children’s book I self-published and I will continue to stay true to the school district I substitute for where the majority of the children live below poverty and they all need me so much.
Please note there is now a revised and updated 2013 edition of Defying Mental Illness: Finding Recovery with Community Resources and Family Support by Paul Komarek and Andrea Schroer.
Defying Mental Illness 2013 Edition – Kindle Version on Amazon
Defying Mental Illness 2013 edition – All ebook formats on Smashwords – includes Nook, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and PDF versions.