By: Dee Yeshitla, Evan Cho, Muhammad Abubakar, Moiz Qureshi, Brady Meador, and Isatou Ceesay, The University of Washington Bothell School of Business
From the very first moment Joey’s face showed up on the computer projection screen, before he even murmured a word, who Joey was became apparent to everyone watching. Between Joey’s contagious calm demeanor and his big apartment in the background, we could see his story was one of success.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19, Joey has never let his mental health condition stop him from achieving success. Graduating from Bellevue College and having experience serving as a board member on three community-oriented organizations: NAMI Seattle, ARC of King County, and Saint Vincent DePaul, Joey stands as a source of inspiration. Throughout the years, Joey has been honored by Seattle Kraken for his amazing work advocating for mental health and represented NAMI Seattle at a Seahawks game. “It was very much a dream come true.” Joey says, “Haven’t been to a Seahawks game in over 15 years, so it was very neat. I was very thankful I got to be there. It was an honor.”
Joey is currently a client with Transitional Resources, which is a mental health agency that gives mental health patients temporary housing. As well as offers support and guidance. We are thankful for the advice Joey shared with us as he told us about his journey with schizophrenia and how we got where he is now. He also teased an upcoming documentary featuring his story.
Was there anyone or someone that motivated you to be an advocate for mental health? Or was it from a past experience perhaps?
JW: It was both. My past experience growing up I had a lot of advocates. And then when I was in my early twenties and teens, I had to advocate a lot for myself. Through safety reasons I would check myself into Harborview or voluntarily any group home. Also, my dad these last few years, a lot of his life, I reached out to connect with him and he was really having a hard time. So, he’s someone I always think about a lot to forgive and help people and just do your best when you have a mental illness.
How would you describe the care that you received in your early 20s?
JW: I had a really good case manager for about a year and a half from 20-22 [years old]. I had to advocate a lot for myself to keep going back to the hospital and finding the right medication, but eventually, I did. It took three years to find the medication from 19-22. I was on medication, but it wasn’t working because one size does not fit all. And, my last stay in Harborview was on my 22nd birthday, so I finally found the medication that works for me. I have been on the same meds for almost ten years now. So that was really just advocating for myself, and speaking up when I needed to be spoken for.
Your specific health concern causes fear to an ignorant general population, how do you feel that it is misunderstood?
JW: You see a lot of people who are in a mental health crisis or they have mental health conditions, schizophrenia, bipolar, I think just different conditions. And they’re labeled and put in the category of that person “everybody who has schizophrenia is violent” or “everybody who is bipolar does this” or “everybody, who is mentally ill shouldn’t belong, in a safe place”. So it’s really misunderstood and it’s misunderstood because you’re labeled kind of a lot of people are labeled once they have a mental illness. And that’s not how it should be. I think [people are] very capable of living a healthy, good life, you know, even if you have a mental illness. I think society really labels you once you have a mental illness because it’s been kicked under the rug for a long time. And Covid happened. Mental illness is really spiked, and that kind of caught some attention and things of that sort. It makes me upset sometimes how people label others because of the mental condition they have. It’s a mixed bag. I would say.
If someone were to see you when you were suffering, what would you want them to know about you?
JW: I’m a good-hearted person. I don’t want people to take that one instance where they see me in the midst of suffering or crisis and they go “oh he’s just, you know, he’s not stable or he’s crazy or he’s not, in his right mind”. You know, and “he will always be that way”. I wouldn’t want anybody to think that about me because every human being has a breaking point, you know? It’s not possible for everybody to be perfect all the time. So, yeah just don’t judge.
What advice would you give people that started on the path toward dealing with mental health concerns?
JW: Always be honest with your doctor. Be honest with your support, support team around you like family, friends, or, case management or community, or any of that. Just be honest and let them know what’s going on with you and don’t try to hide it. You know, I just know it’s difficult. You know, I live with it every day, and so do a lot of people. But it’s best, to be honest with those that we’re trying to help you because I believe in facing things head-on. You know, you have to communicate to get results. You have to face it, head. So just be honest, don’t hide it, and never give up.
What advice would you give to parents that are raising children with mental health complications?
JW: Don’t ever give up on your kids, don’t ever stop fighting for them. Just be there for them. They need it more than everybody, never give up on your kids I would say. You know, they need it more than anybody. Do you know? It’s like it’s just the money that takes a village. And for the parents, it’s just as hard just for the kids to see your loved ones go through that because they’re struggling, too, with having to have someone they really love, have a condition, mental health condition, and struggles.
Without money being an issue, what would make the most significant impact on mental health care you could imagine?
JW: So I live in a group home. I’m part of a group/agency called Transitional Resources and if I can build 100 of those, or if I could have a bunch of drops in centers plus a hundred of Transitional Resources and things like that. That would be a dream.
Transitional Resources is a mental health agency, they have inpatient and outpatient programs. Inpatient is where it’s a group home. And you stay there 24/7 care, but you can leave and come back or go to work and come back, take your meds and go outside and go for a walk and things like that. And there’s always staff around. It’s like you live on your own. They help you find an apartment with a voucher, and you live on your own. But you stay close to the organization. You need support and medication. You have a Case manager and psychiatrist. I’m very blessed in a way that I get to live outside the West Seattle community and most clients live in the West Seattle community. Because I know I said I follow the rules. But, you know, I do a really good job of taking my meds and showing up on time to my appointments and going to work and, you know, all these great things that I’ve built around in my life. I really just, I’m blessed that I get to live outside the West Seattle community close to my home, my family’s home in Queen Anne. So, Transitional Resources is a mental health agency that’s inpatient and outpatient. And they’re very good. It’s very good service.
What is a short-term goal that you are looking forward to accomplishing?
JW: We have this documentary that we are working on. This is a long-term and a short-term goal. I’m hoping that the documentary we are working on helps a lot of lives, and I’m hoping it will also be very helpful to parents who have kids who are struggling or it just gives people hope. You know, it’s a long-term and short-term goal.
Joey is featured in Bright-Eyed Entertainment’s upcoming documentary, “The Voice Inside” about living with schizophrenia. Learn more about the documentary in our interview with Bright-Eyed Entertainment CEOs Felicia Thomas and Isla Roberson.
Learning from Joey, we understand there is still a significant stigma surrounding mental illness. We urge you to check out these additional websites for more information and resources surrounding mental illness and people affected by it:
- Transitional Resources
- NAMI Mental Health Conditions
- NAMI Schizophrenia
- NAMI Seattle Donations
- NAMI Seattle Volunteer Opportunities
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and content.