South Carolina Department of Mental Health

The Stories Behind the Statistics

 The Recovery of People with Mental Illnesses Employed

Through Block Grant Funding


 Written by

 Katherine M. Roberts, MPH
South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Office of Consumer Affairs
Consumer-to-Consumer Evaluation Team Coordinator
(803) 898-8304


Presented at the 2004 Joint National Conference
on Mental Health Block Grant
and National Conference on Mental Health Statistics
June 1-4, 2004


 Bonnie Pate
Executive Director and
South Carolina State Planning Council Chair
(803) 739-5712


 Vicki Cousins
South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Office of Consumer Affairs Director


In South Carolina there are seven consumer-run initiatives made possible through State Planning Council Block Grant Funding.  These seven initiatives are listed below.

Each project provides people with needed, unduplicated services in the public mental health system.  All of the following projects are managed or are staffed by service providers who are self-identified consumers of mental health services.


This presentation isn’t so much about the specific jobs created for users of the public mental health system, but rather, it’s about the impact of employment on the lives people in recovery from mental illnesses.

The message in these stories is about the recovery and hope that occurs when people’s dreams are renewed and their sense of purpose and dignity restored through meaningful employment. This has happened for the people featured in the following stories and for many others in South Carolina, thanks to the funding provided by the State Block Grant.


Her Employment Position:        Recovery for Life Group Coordinator
Representing: Lexington           County Community Mental Health Center
Location:                                 Lexington, South Carolina

 “Working at this job has given me back my self-esteem.
It is important to me to know that I can do.
I can also give back what’s been given to me.”

 --  Cynthia

Cynthia coordinates the Recovery for Life groups for Lexington County Community Mental Health Center.  Cynthia became involved with SC Share’s self help project, Recovery for Life, when she was invited to attend a training to become a Recovery for Life group leader. She had been attending the clubhouse program for several years and yearned to move on to something more challenging and meaningful to her.

Recovery for Life fit the bill. Not only was she able to work, but it was at a job that allowed her to help other clients as she had been helped. After completing her training, Cynthia was offered a part-time position to coordinate Recovery for Life groups for her center.  Her position is funded by a State Planning Council Block Grant award. She has been working now for almost two years, which is the longest period of continuous employment Cynthia can remember having.

Cynthia feels that this position has helped to change her life for the better. She says: “Working has helped me maintain my stability. It has given me confidence to know that I am able to do this. It’s something I never thought I could do.”

Cynthia credits a lot of people for helping her get to where she is today: “The staff at Our House Club House has been great to me,  but my daughter has been the backbone of my support for the last 14 years.”

Cynthia’s dream now is remain working as long as possible and continuing to help take care of her grandchildren. She also enjoys baking, crocheting and is working on a book detailing her journey toward recovery from mental illness.  



Her Employment Position:         Driver for the local mental health center
Representing:                            Beckman Center for Mental Health Services
Location:                                  Greenwood, South Carolina

“The best thing is the feeling I had
knowing I was doing something to help.”

--  Ginny

Ginny began working for Beckman Center for Mental Health Services in June 2001, picking up and dropping off clients who did not have means of getting to and from the mental health clinic or doctor for medical treatment. This vital service is funded through a State Planning Council Block Grant award.  

Ginny says: “At first I was scared to take that first step. But the more I worked the more I realized that I wasn’t the only one out there who had problems and that I could act as sort of a role model. Most of the clients were surprised to learn I was a client. Many became at ease with me and were willing to talk. Unless you have been there you can’t really understand what it means to be diagnosed with a mental illness.”

Ginny had not planned to work at all, but an on-the-job accident left her husband disabled and forced some changes in her life.  She was not having a lot of employment success before this job came along.  She had to leave her previous position because the stress complicated the symptoms of her bi-polar disorder. But this time employment helped Ginny make tremendous strides in her life. She describes herself as more at ease with people than ever before, and confident enough to stand up for herself and to be much more outgoing.

In June of 2003, Ginny was offered and accepted a full-time position as administrative specialist at the mental health clinic. In addition to expanding her hours and pay, for the first time in years she has insurance benefits.

She said, “The first time I walked into the drugstore and gave them my prescription and didn’t have to worry about who I could borrow money from to pay for it was terrific!” Ginny still has days where the symptoms of her disorder get to her but is still able to work. She says she wants people to know that mental illness is something you can move past.  While it may always be a presence in her life, Ginny says it doesn’t have to dominate everything.

Ginny credits her colleagues at the mental health clinic and her husband and her son for giving her the encouragement and support she needed to make the transition to full-time employment.    

“G.G. and Joseph”

            Their Employment Positions:  Kitchen staff at an in-patient forensic hospital
            Representing:                        Work-In-Progress, Inc.
            Location:                               Columbia, SC                                      

“I feel good for something for a change. I don’t feel less than.”

 --  GG

“It feels great to get a paycheck that I earned.”

--  Joseph

G.G. and Joseph are part of the kitchen staff at Just Care, an inpatient forensic program in South Carolina.  They hold two of ten positions supported by the State Planning Council Block Grant funding.  The direct recipient of the funding is Work-in-Progress, Inc.  It is a non-profit  supported employment resource center which helps clients of two local mental health centers find and keep jobs they want.

Prior to working at Just Care, G.G. held several jobs.  She tells of going to a club house program day after day, being heavily medicated and sleeping through most of her time there. She said, “One day I just woke up and said: “What am I doing here?  I applied for a job with the mobile work crew and got on two months later. I realized that if I was going to get better I would have to take all the information about recovery that the staff was always talking about and make it happen for myself.”

Joseph has been dealing with mental illness since the mid 1970s. “I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia for years.  People told me black people don’t get depressed. I didn’t get the right medication which led to more and more hospitalizations and me losing job after job.” Joseph was finally correctly diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, but, by then,  he was unemployed and on disability. Joseph attended the same club house as G.G. when he became a Work-In-Progress client.

Joseph began working at Just Care in January of 2004, a month before G.G.   They both feel that it is important to their recoveries to be able to support themselves and control their own money. They both say that attending a club house program was not how they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.  It is important to them to be able to answer the all too familiar question: “What do you do?” with confidence.

A multitude of changes are now occurring in G.G and Joseph’s lives because of their employment. G.G. just purchased her own car. She is making plans to get her GED and pursue cosmetology and art.  Joseph is planning on returning to college to finish a degree in theology. He says, “Whatever normal is, we consider ourselves to be that.” Over the years, Joseph and G.G. have gained a lot from spending time together.  They have support, friendship, employment and recently they announced their plans to marry.


Her Employment Position:  Coordinator, Consumer-to-Consumer
                                                      Evaluation Team
            Representing:                      SCDMH Office of Consumer Affairs
            Location:                            Columbia, South Carolina

“With the Block Grant funding and full-time employment, our project went to the next level and my life took another giant leap forward.”

--  Katherine

Katherine began working with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health in 1998 as coordinator of a consumer-run evaluation service. As a part-time employee her office was located outside of the agency’s central administration building. She was “housed” at one of the buildings on a closed State Hospital campus. Katherine was initially paid to work 3 hours a day leaving little time to become “vested” in Departmental activities beyond coordinating the Consumer-to-Consumer Evaluation Team.  When she first started, Katherine’s hourly wage was kept low to not jeopardize her disability benefits -- without adequate health insurance Katherine would not have been able to work at all.

In May 2001, the agency’s Office of Consumer Affairs submitted a grant proposal to the State Planning Council to expand the Team’s evaluation efforts. With the award, the program matured and Katherine’s life took another giant leap forward. The changes that occurred in her life since then have been phenomenal. 

Katherine is now a full-time employee, no longer needing to rely on disability payments to ensure adequate health insurance; she now co-owns the home she lives in;  her office was moved from the hospital to the central administration building allowing her the opportunity to participate fully and become involved with the agency at many different levels.  And here are some of the internal committees and workgroups she’s now involved in.

“Judy-Ellen, Lynnie and Harvey”

Their Employment Positions:     Telephone Support Specialist
                                                for the Reassurance Warm-line
Representing:                            The Greenville Mental Health Association
Location:                                   Greenville, South Carolina

I don’t feel useless anymore.”

-- Judy-Ellen

I was a failure at so many things.
This job gives me a sense of purpose.
I feel honored to have it. For the first time in a long-long time
I feel that I am contributing something.”

-- Lynnie

“The importance of this job to me is inexplicable. I never dreamed it would be possible for me to have and be able to keep this kind of job. It is a blessing to help other folks. I am more than happy and proud to try and do my best.”

-- Harvey

Judy-Ellen, Lynnie and Harvey are part of team of consumer employees that staff the Reassurance Line, a warm-line program of the Greenville Mental Health Association and funded by State Planning Council Block Grant funds. The Reassurance Line is a 24-hour/seven days a week service. Three shifts of consumer employees call mental health clients daily, some several times a day.  They call to remind a client to get up, to provide words of encouragement, to help avert a crisis, and most of all just to listen.  As one of them says, “It’s not like we are making telemarketing phone calls.  We are not intruding on the clients.  They asked that we call them. We know that sometimes we may be the only human voice they hear that day.”

All three were referred to the Mental Health Association by their individual therapists located at the local mental health center. Being employed has impacted their lives in many positive ways.

All three echo the sentiment that the job makes them feel useful and productive. They are not just collecting a paycheck. They feel employment helps them maintain their own recovery by giving them a sense of responsibility and the ability to answer the question “What do you do?”  … with pride.

“Belinda, Cynthia, and Jason”

Their Employment Positions:     Peer Support Specialists
                                                for the Welcome Home program
Representing:                           Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center
Location:                                 Aiken, South Carolina

“I have always been a working person -- that is until I became disabled. Now that I’m working again I’m back to my old self and it feels wonderful.”

-- Belinda

“Having this job gives me a sense of purpose;
I feel productive – like I am contributing, plus I love working with other consumers.
Being one myself, I know where they are coming from.”

-- Cynthia

“It feels wonderful to have this job; it gives me a purpose in life and
purpose for my treatment.”

-- Jason

Belinda, Cynthia and Jason work in the Welcome Home program at Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center.  Their program is funded with State Planning Council Block Grant funds. Along with one other consumer, they work with people recently discharged from in-patient psychiatric settings. Their job is to help support clients striving for recovery. They make home visits and phone calls, visits to the clubhouse, and whatever it takes to show that recovery is possible.

            Belinda, Cynthia and Jason were all referred to Welcome Home by their job coach. All three have made tremendous strides in their own recovery from mental illnesses.

In addition to their own hard work, all three give credit to the staff at Aiken-Barnwell Mental Health Center.  Family support has meant a great deal to both Belinda’s and Jason’s recovery and Cynthia credits a close friend and her therapist for their continued support in her recovery.



Her Employment Position:         Recovery for Life Group Leader
Representing:                            SC SHARE, Inc.
Location:                                  West Columbia, South Carolina

“Being employed gives me a reason to get up in the morning.
I feel inspired when I go to work, knowing that I can make
a connection with other consumers
 and that I can help them. I am respected by the staff as a colleague
 and clients have told me that I inspired them.”

-- Linda

This Block Grant project has shown Linda what she wants out of life - - to do things on her own and to help others.

            Linda was introduced to SC SHARE, the area’s independent, consumer-run non-profit organization, about eight years ago.  She was in the role of leading consumer groups organized by SC SHARE at the clubhouse program she attended and had been to six annual consumer conferences, when she was approached to participate in the Recovery for Life program as a group leader. Recovery for Life group leaders are paid a stipend from the State Planning Council Block Grant funds for conducting groups. Linda led groups for a year before taking another job. When that job didn’t pan out, she returned to leading Recovery for Life groups and getting paid for it. 

The skills Linda gained being a group leader gave her the confidence to apply for a position as a peer support specialist in a day program at the local mental health center. Linda got the job and continues to work there part-time. She hopes to begin leading Recovery for Life groups in the day program as well as starting one in her own home community.  

Linda has coped with mental illness for about 14 years. She says, “For a long time I just didn’t think I was good enough. I have learned as much from Recovery for Life class members as I have taught. I know that I have something valuable to say and I know that my recovery process is on-going.”

Linda credits her sister with giving her the support and inspiration she needed when she was ready to try to become employed again. Linda says: “It feels good to know that someone feels it’s worthwhile to pay me for the experiences I have had and the services I can offer. Being diagnosed with a mental illness put my life into perspective. I know what is important now. Instead of being ashamed of my mental illness and trying to hide it, I can teach people to talk about their experience and about recovery. It’s made my life meaningful. I just want to keep supporting others and learning.”


His Employment Position:          Recovery for Life Group Leader
Representing:                            SC Share, Inc
Location:                                  West Columbia, South Carolina

“It matters that I show up and that what I’m doing is important.”

--  Matt

Matt is a Recovery for Life group leader.  State Planning Council Block Grant funding pays Matt and other Recovery for Life leaders a stipend for conducting mutual support groups. Since completing his training Matt has conducted two groups.  The experience as he puts it is as much for him as for the other clients in the group. He sees that people’s spirits are lifted when a person in distress from mental illness can connect with peers.  They realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that recovery from mental illness is possible.

Matt became involved in the Recovery for Life program when a staff member at the local mental health center suggested he attend the training. Since becoming involved in the program Matt has immersed himself in the consumer/recovery movement. Since completing his training Matt has served as a member of the mental health center’s Governing Board of Directors.  He has attended various statewide conferences and workshops, and is currently serving on Lexington’s newly formed consumer advisory board.

When asked what being employed as a Recovery for Life leader means to him, Matt said, “Distress often comes from not doing anything.”  Recovery for Life makes him feel that he is doing something. Along with his work as an artist Matt is proud to be able to answer that familiar question “What do you do?”  He says it’s a good feeling to be able to hold his head up and answer the question with confidence. “It does wonders for your self esteem, he says.”  While Matt acknowledges that he would lead a group without the stipend, he feels the skills learned are important to recovery and being paid says a lot about how valued the service he provides is. Says Matt: “It’s empowering to know that mental health systems are recognizing the value of what consumers can bring to the table. Work challenges me and when I complete a task I feel that I am part of the makeup of the universe … that I belong. Work is a wonderful growth opportunity. I feel like I have a purpose, that my life is an experience, a journey, and not a punishment.”

Matt is 47 years old. Twenty years ago he was brought to Columbia from Charleston by the police to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he stayed for three months. His counselor and social worker felt that Matt should remain in Columbia after he was discharged from that initial hospitalization. Matt credits his recovery to the mental health center’s psychosocial rehabilitation therapy program he attends, his art and his involvement with martial arts and work.  Recently Matt won first place in the Art of Recovery program sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health and judged by the South Carolina Arts Commission. While working on his recovery from mental illness, a process he isn’t sure ever ends, Matt has earned his B.A. in Graphic Arts and a Masters in Art Studio. At this time Matt is exploring the possibility of applying for a position as a Certified Peer Support Specialist.