The Women’s Giving Alliance (WGA), an initiative of the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, is making mental health for women and girls a priority focus for its members over the next two years. As part of their initiative, the WGA Advocacy Committee hosted Mental Illness: Understanding the Problem, Living the Solution November 13 in Jacksonville.
The 90-minute program featured 3 panelists including Florida Partners in Crisis’ Executive Director Gail Cordial, Norma Basford of NAMI Jacksonville and Kristin Keen, Founder and Executive Director of Rethreaded a supportive employment program for victims of sex trafficking.
Panelists were asked to share information about their organizations, critical issues they face, challenges to fulfilling their mission and how individuals or groups such as the WGA could become more involved.
Cordial, Basford and Keen agreed one of their greatest challenges is the need for better understanding of mental illness, addiction and trauma and the linkages between them. For example, data shows nearly 90% of women in prison or jail have experienced trauma in their lifetime. While many individuals struggle with symptoms of all three disorders the impact of one disorder is more than enough to disrupt their lives, result in poor decision-making or a start a cycle of hospitalizations, jail or homelessness.
Basford emphasized the importance of educating family members as well as individuals. When an individual struggles with their illness and its accompanying highs and lows the family experiences those same highs and lows. Often an exhausting process that may last weeks, months or even longer. NAMI provides free classes and support groups for families, individuals, providers and the general public.
Educating judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials is another part of the long-term solution according to Cordial. From the time a 911 call is made through the arrest process and court hearings there are many opportunities for criminal justice officials to seek treatment alternatives rather than incarceration when appropriate. Florida Partners in Crisis’ newly created Justice Institute provides continuing education programs to help judges and other criminal justice officials make informed decisions about therapeutic alternatives.
The panelists also agreed on the need for supportive housing and employment to aid in long-term recovery and stability. Although still in its infancy, Keen’s program assists women by providing a safe work environment while helping them learn a skill and to continue the healing process. Three of Rethreaded’s employees are now living in their own apartments thanks to the program.
For more information about these programs:
The Women’s Giving Alliance Advocacy Committee - The Advocacy Committee explores ways WGA as an organization and its members individually can extend the impact of WGA grant-making by learning about relevant public policies and how to advocate for change that will improve the lives of women and girls. Committee members plan workshops and other activities to help members learn to make their voices heard on issues. When appropriate, the committee will propose to the Steering Committee strategies for influencing policy-making connected with WGA grants.