Kellie Jack suffers from mental illness, and she has a goal.

“I want to stomp out stigma,” she said.

The formerly homeless woman recalls that even as a little kid, something wasn’t right. She says she was ostracized. “It was more than just the imaginary friend. There were just things I couldn’t explain to people.”

Now a peer coach with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, Jack was on KHUM on Monday talking about May’s designation as Mental Health Month. Hear the full interview below. 

Kellie Jack on KHUM

For Mental Health month, the county has planned a series of events highlighting this complicated topic. 

On Tuesday, May 19, there will be a mental health walk starting at the Hope Center, 2933 H St. in Eureka at noon and ending at the county courthouse. They’ll be staging a Zumba party on the Arcata Plaza on Wednesday, May 27th at 11:30. 

One in every four Americans experiences some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. So while we know you’re not the type to mock a sick person, you know it still happens. 

1. Mental illness is treated differently: “We talk about diabetes. We talk about cancer. They’re hard subjects, but we talk about them. So I want to begin talking about mental illness like any other subject we talk about… .”

2. Exercise can ease mental illness: “Excercise, or Zumba in our case, is a wellness tool. It’s a way that you can feel better about yourself.”

3. Being open about your illness can kill a conversation: “Sometimes they welcome it. Sometimes the conversation gets very quiet… . It  varies with different crowds.”

4. Being a functional member of society is relative: “It depends what your idea of functional is… . If homelessness is being functional, if not paying your bills is functional, then no. In my world, that was functional to me.”

5. Refusing assistance can be part of the illness: “I had family and other people, county workers wanting to help me, but I wasn’t ready to accept that help. [Health workers’] engagement with me, even when I pushed away, was huge.”

6. On mocking ill people:Sometimes when you’ve seen people over and over again who are in the midst of their struggles, it’s hard to change your mind… . But then if you go to some of these [Mental Health Month] events, and you see people who have come through some struggles, your mind changes a little bit.” 

7. How likely is recovery? “Seventy to 90 percent, with treatment and support, show reduced symptoms. So there’s hope for the one in four.”

8. News media won’t tell you the recovery stories: “What I’d really like to see is, every time there’s a bad media [story] about mental illness, that were four [success stories] about mental illness… . [A]ll we’re stuck with is the bad media coverage of mental illness.”

9. How can you help when someone with mental illness refuses? “Just keep helping. What I do today is just keep the kindness, and keep reaching out my hand.”