Vanessa Williams
Vanessa Williams

(4-19-19) A small crowd gathered on Tuesday evening to listen to Sheriff’s Deputy Vanessa Williams and her husband, Greg Williams, share their experiences navigating mental health resources and systems.

This event was put on by the Women’s Health Council and is part of the Community Resiliency Series, coordinated through the Healthy Berrien Consortium. The Women’s Health Council strives to “positively transform the health of their community through awareness, advocacy, and citizen empowerment.” To learn more, please visit www.bchdmi.org and click on “Community Resiliency Series” under Department News.

Deputy Williams explained different systems of mental health treatment, including the petition system, and language around mental illness for police officers. For example, officers use the term “consumers” to describe people having a mental health crisis.

The couple shared how they were able to navigate mental health systems for the last twenty years. First, finding support such as family and close friends is key. Deputy Williams also spoke about the importance of attitude and investing time to go to doctor appointments, understanding medications, and advocating for treatment. For Deputy Williams, this meant understanding that mental illness is a chemical imbalance, which helped her understand the source of the issue and increased her empathy. Third, communication between consumers and their support systems is vital to be proactive. Support people cannot be solely responsible for recognizing a future crisis and the consumer has to be able to recognize their own signs and symptoms. Finally, both spoke about the importance of faith along their journey.

While Deputy and Mr. Williams experienced shame and stigma in the past, now they are able to speak out about their experiences. They regularly educate police officers in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), where they tell their story in hopes that police officers will listen and respect consumers. CIT includes learning about de-escalation tactics and ways to affirm consumer’s experiences. Deputy Williams believes CIT will help decrease the number of people in prison with mental illness by getting them the help they need, instead of going through the criminal justice system.

In the future, Mr. Williams hopes that mental health can be taught in school and that there will be more funding for mental health resources. Deputy and Mr. Williams offered a message of hope, and want people to know if they are making it through this, you can too.

Get information about the Women’s Health Council via Facebook or email at whcbentonharbor@gmail.com.

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