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Maine woman shares message of hope with others

10:23 AM, Mar 8, 2013   |    comments
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SCARBOROUGH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When Donna Betts' son took his own life at the age of 23, she was devastated.

"My oldest son, Josh, developed depression, and that went really fast," she recounted.  "Within a matter of 6 months, he had died from suicide." 

"I remember before he died, oh my gosh, I knew something was wrong and I just... I tried calling and getting doctors appointments and he didn't have insurance and they didn't let me make appointments."

"Right after Josh died... it was horrendous," she admitted.  "I had such a hard time seeing families with little children.  I just, I couldn't deal with it.  I was just thinking, oh my god, look at all these little kids, which one is going to grow up and kill themselves?"

Betts had to put on a brave face in those dark days, as she struggled to seek help for her youngest son, Luke, who was diagnosed as bi-polar when he was 15.

"It was a nightmare trying to find help for him.  I didn't know where to go.  I didn't know he was ill," explained Betts.  "We tried counselors and treatment programs and I just felt like I was hanging out there."

That desperation, dealing with what she describes as a fractured mental health system, while acting as a mother, counselor and health care provider for her family lead Betts to create a new nonprofit organization, Family Hope, designed to help families find the services and support they need for their loved ones dealing with mental illnesses.

"Family Hope is a resource connection for people who care about someone with mental illness," she explained.  "There are a lot of resources out there, so I found after Josh died, that there was help out there for me at that time, I just didn't know about it."

Using her knowledge from years spent fighting to help her family, and the connections she has made with mental health professionals and organizations, Betts has created a website and helpline that act as a starting point for people who know they need help, but do not know where to find it.

"A lot of times, family members don't know what they need," said Betts.  "So if you don't know what type of service you need, how do you know who to call?"

"Family members are asked to do a really hard job, with very little training and no support," stated Creighton Taylor, a volunteer mental health awareness advocate. 

"If somebody had had open heart surgery, you would certainly come home with just a sheet of instructions, like if the area is red and warm it means you might need to go see the doctor," she explained.  "Well, we don't get any instructions, and often our loved ones are still ill and can be hallucinating or having delusions or psychotic; and I didn't learn how to speak psychotic. No one ever taught me that language and it is a very subtle, nuanced language."

Taylor, who has experienced the triumphs and tribulations that come with having a loved one with mental illness herself, believes Family Hope will help provide direction for people lost in the mental health care system.

"I want to see families get the support and training they need to do the incredibly difficult job that we are asked to do," she said.  "I know a lot of these families they are just frantic, and worried and concerned and scared, and they have no where to turn, they don't know how to get help, and that is why Family Hope is such a great resource."

In addition to providing information about resources available to help them, Family Hope also has a section to help provide words of encouragement and support from others who have fought the same battles, something Creighton Taylor says was missing when she sought help for her family member.

"I really didn't think there was any hope.  I thought our family's life was over.  I certainly thought that my children's lives were over in many ways. The hopes and dreams that we had for them were just shattered," she recalled.  "I mean it was a different world we were entering, and nobody said to me, recovery is possible, nobody said to me don't give up hope."

"I don't want another family to go through what we went through," said Betts, who admits her son Luke is still struggles every day to deal with his mental illness.  "With Family Hope, our efforts are three pronged; educate, encourage and guide.  That is all we want to do, is help families."

Betts says Family Hope is an organization dedicated to helping families find resources, and is not a service provider or designed to help people in crisis.  You can contact them at 207-396-4313 if you need help finding programs or information.

If you're afraid your loved one is thinking about suicide or you want to talk to someone NOW:

•Call the Maine Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 1-888-568-1112 to connect to your closest crisis center for professional guidance, follow-up care and support.

•Or, for a Maine emergency, call 911 and tell them it's a mental health concern. Provide the diagnosis (if you have it) and tell them whether or not you've called the Maine Crisis Hotline.

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