County mental health services praised by recipients, family
WILLMAR -- Catherine Harris had struggled with mental illness for years, but in 2003 she hit a low point. She said she'd failed at school and work and had left a suicide letter on her computer. "I felt like I was a failure. I couldn't rise above it," she told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.
But because of the mental health care she received through Kandiyohi County Family Services, she is healthy, happy and working part time.
"I thank God I'm alive," said Harris, of Willmar.
She gives full credit to Quin Buchtel, a case manager with Kandiyohi County Family Services, and the team of mental health experts who helped put her life back together.
"Each day is a gift and there are lessons to be learned," said Carmen Clementson, supervisor for mental health programs with Kandiyohi County Family Services, as she spoke briefly to the commissioners Tuesday about the work her staff does and how they can change people's lives.
May is mental health awareness month in Minnesota.
Clementson said a walk/run will be held at 5 p.m. May 28 at Robbins Island Park to draw attention to mental health.
Mental illness is often "swept under the rug," said Angela Sondrol, who shared her story with the commissioners about her young son's bipolar disorder. There are "no dinners and fundraisers" to help fight mental illness, she said, and it is easier for the public to assume that a child's behavior is because of abuse or poor parenting rather than mental illness.
Sondrol, of Sunburg, told the commissioners that when her son was a toddler, he began hitting, biting, having two- to three-hour-long temper tantrums and would scream "from dusk til dawn." Doubting her parenting skills -- despite taking numerous classes and reading every parenting book written -- she said "life had become unbearable" and she felt "like I had lost my child."
In 2006 she went to Kandiyohi County Family Services looking for help.
She said she found angels.
Kay Anderson, a case manager with the county, drove to Sunburg in the evening -- after work hours -- to meet with Sondrol. Within minutes of the meeting, Sondrol said "everything was so clear" and there was "no question what she would do for us."
Within a week her son saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He was prescribed medications, and "the darkness lifted" and her son smiled, said Sondrol. The second-grader is now attending mainstream school and is reading at a fourth-grade level. All of that had been unimaginable in the past, she said.
Saying "thank you" isn't enough for what Kandiyohi County Family Services has done for her family, said Sondrol. "They are our angels."
While addressing the family service employees, Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the "vast majority of the public doesn't have a clue what you do and how it is intertwined in our lives."
He said most people consider the county's Family Services Department simply as "welfare," when in fact the services that are provided change the lives of people and the community. It's a story that the public needs to hear, said Madsen.
"You don't realize how much our staff does until you hear from people," said Commissioner Dean Shuck.
"We appreciate what you people do," said Commissioner Richard Falk.
Registration for the mental health walk/run will be at 5 p.m. May 28 at the Guri Endreson shelter at Robbins Island Park. The non-competitive three-mile walk/run begins at 5:30 p.m.