How Person-Centered Care Helped Guide Me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness


A community psychiatry researcher reflects on the treatment she received in her youth for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression—and calls for more recovery-oriented care to be available nationwide.

I was 14 and growing up in a small suburban town in Kentucky with my parents and 16-year-old brother. I loved school and I loved the arts, wandering my high school’s hallways with a paintbrush stuck in my messy ponytail.

With my nose in a book or my feet in ballet slippers, I appeared to lead a relatively normal teenage life. Hidden beneath the surface, though, were secrets.

A neighbor had sexually abused me for much of my childhood, until I was 13, manipulating me into believing that it was my fault. If I told anyone, he said, he would murder my family. The shame I carried weighed me down. I felt constantly on guard, fearful that my secrets would come out and that I would lose my family.

On the outside, I looked like an average high school student. I was a cheerleader, an artist, and a straight-A student. But inside, I was hanging on by a thread, battling depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Eventually the bad feelings overpowered me, and I attempted suicide. I ended up in the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. Over the course of four years, I was hospitalized two more times, each in a different hospital’s psych unit. The three experiences stand out as distinct in my memory—some troubling and some uplifting.

With the perspective of time, I can now reflect on what I learned from those experiences, what was and wasn’t helpful for me during my time of crisis, and how mental health providers could treat their patients better.

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