by James Reese Peterson
While working as an Easterseals associate over the past three years, I have developed a passion for supporting the disability community and a desire to expand my work. Over the years, I have made some of the best friendships and met some of the kindest people within Easterseals’ Adult Day Services. The more time I have spent with participants in our programs, the more I have been able to appreciate what makes each one of us unique, regardless of ability or disability. On June 3, 2020, I was given the opportunity to lead a new Easterseals Service as Outreach and Engagement Specialist that would focus on providing a variety of mental health services to those in the disability community and, more broadly, citizens of Orange County. This service is a subcontracted part of a larger Outreach and Engagement collaborative featuring Western Youth Services (WYS). The Priority Center (TPC), and Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), with funding from the Orange County Health Care Agency.
With rates of mental health issues like depression and anxiety being 2-10 times more prevalent in those with disabilities, as well as the likelihood they will be misdiagnosed or misattributed to a disabled person’s known disability, this service is critical. I have always desired to help those with mental health complications and continue my work within the disability community, so when this opportunity presented itself I couldn’t say no.
I have been in this position now for a little over two months and I have learned a lot, but there is still much more to be learned. The need for mental health services, especially with people isolating due to COVID-19, will likely increase. It is very common to feel alone and disconnected when experiencing mental health problems like depression and anxiety, especially when dealing with it on your own.
For Suicide Prevention Week, I hosted a webinar about the signs, symptoms, and preventability of suicide and suicidal ideation. Hosting these webinars and workshops is part of the goal shared by me, Easterseals, and the Outreach and Engagement Collaborative of Orange County, to educate as many people as possible about a variety of mental health topics and diagnoses. On September 15, I will co-host a “Talk Saves Lives” event that also focuses on mental health education and prevention. In the end, I have a very personal connection with those who experience complications with their mental health because of my own experiences, and that is why I am so committed to this position. I am hopeful that I can have a positive impact on those who seek help.