Quick. Close your eyes and visualize the background of someone living with mental illness or a substance use disorder. Who do you see? What do you see?
The reality is there is no “typical” background. The statistics say that 1 in 5 people live with mental Illness, but at Places for People, we know that mental illness and substance use disorders affect all of us.
When you closed your eyes, did you picture a young man attending a prominent Catholic high school in St. Louis? Because that’s Sean’s background.
I first met Sean in 2015 when he agreed to share his story for the Places for People Perspectives newsletter.
Sean dropped out of high school as a sophomore. At 17-years-old, he went to rehab for the first time. It was also the first time he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
After earning his GED, Sean enrolled in Northeast Missouri State (now known as Truman State University). He attended the school for two years and in his words, partied like a rock star.
For the next two decades, he avoided his diagnosis. “I never took meds or anything like that. I was using drugs and alcohol to try to balance myself out, and it didn’t work at all. It just made life even worse.”
He returned to St. Louis in the mid-2000s, but was in the midst of a tailspin after the death of his parents.
For two years, Sean was homeless. That included a year of living in the woods outside of East St. Louis.
“I had to do something different,” he said. “I couldn’t live in the woods the rest of my life. I had to get a job. I had to be able to take a shower every day.”
The support system Sean formed in college helped him through those tough times. Through it all, Sean was able to endure. “What kept me going was my best friend, one of my fraternity brothers from Kirksville. Man, if it wasn’t for him and the support of my fraternity brothers, there’s no way I would have made it. I would have completely lost it.”
In January 2015, he connected with Places for People.
Within 10 days of his first visit with our intake team, Sean had his first appointment with a psychiatrist at Places for People and was soon connected to the on-site Family Care Health Centers office at Places for People. He said he hadn’t seen a psychiatrist or a primary care physician regularly for years.
“All of the sudden they were making appointments for me,” he said. “I just kept showing up and good things kept happening.”
Sean was also placed on a rental assistance program through PfP for chronically homeless individuals, funded by St. Louis County’s Housing Resource Commission/Homeless Services Division. Through that program, Sean was able to lease an apartment, paying 30 percent of his income toward the rent.
The first night in his apartment, Sean was finally able to relax. He called it a sign of better things to come. “It was a relief,” he said. “It was like you could finally exhale.”
Today, Sean remains connected with Places for People through our outpatient therapy program and the on-site Family Care Health Centers office.
“I can’t thank Places for People enough. I didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. I didn’t expect any of this to happen at all when I showed up.”
To read more stories like Sean’s, sign up for our Perspectives e-newsletter.