LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – May is “Mental Health Awareness Month” and it’s come just in time for a special graduation that was halted by the pandemic.
While there are many graduations taking place during this time of year, this graduation is unlike any other, as it honors those who have refused to allow mental illness to stop their success in life.
Rescheduled for Thursday, The Fayette Mental Health Court (FMHC) recognized graduates that completed their courses during the pandemic until now.
One graduate is Cameron Crawford, who graduated two years ago and never had his ceremony during the early onset of the pandemic.
“It helped me cope and manage myself a lot better within everything possible,” Crawford said.
However, ceremony or not, Crawford continues to use his new skillsets from FMHC to champion his life.
“I’m actually working part-time at EHS Middle School for mentoring and helping out mentally challenged students,” Crawford said.
There are about 45 more students graduating behind Crawford Thursday. Everyone was once referred by attorneys years ago when they hit a turning point in their life because of their mental illness.
“Like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe and chronic depression,” Kelly Gunning, director of FMHC said.
Gunning said 85-percent of the students struggle with substance abuse of top of their situation.
“You can imagine just trying to navigate the world with a serious mental illness, and then throw an addiction on top of that,” Gunning said.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) helped start the FMHC in Fayette County in 2014, to curb the criminal justice system’s rising crime, due to mental illness.
The Mental Health Treatment Court said it takes each student about one to three years to complete all four phases of the “Stabilization to Wellness Program.”
Connie Milligan, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for NAMI, said many of the students referred to the program are in the lowest points of their life, “Often with no place to live, marginally housed, in difficult relationships.”
Milligan said that those who step into the program have to be determined to complete is, as it is not an easy program.
“To graduate we look for success in all areas,” Milligan said. “Safely housed, off drugs and alcohol, clean and sober, employed and completely engaged successfully with treatment.”
Therefore, the court does not take it likely for those who complete the program.
Jennifer Van Ort-Hazzard, an FMHC coordinator said, “Mental health doesn’t discriminate and so the beautiful 10 faces showing up today are a small representation of the over 120 folks that we have seen throughout our program.”
On top of receiving a certificate of completion, the graduates will also be granted one more thing.
“The wonderful thing too is then their charges are expunged,” Gunning said.