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'In Our Own Voice' gives voice to mental illness

Posted on: April 23, 2018

Gayle Sisson always loved public speaking.

But she never thought that love would lead her to talking about her own mental health issues in public. She’s been talking about them to various groups now for the past six years

“Several years ago, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind,” Sisson said recently. “I lived inwardly for a long time. But I love this. I want to break the stigma about mental illness and help people to better understand it.”

Sisson and fellow speaker Peter McGrover are part of a group called “In Our Own Voice”. It’s a program of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Southwest Ohio that helps to educate audiences about mental illness through their personal stories.

Sisson and McGrover both say it’s also built their self-confidence.

“I feel like this is something that shows I’m no different from anyone else,” said McGrover. “I have dreams and hopes like everyone else.”

For McGrover, it’s sort of a return to his former social work career. “I did my first presentation in 2013. It felt like talking to the clients I used to work with back then. They learn from what I’ve been through, and how I now feel like there’s hope going forward.”

Sisson and McGrover went through a two-day training to prepare for In Our Own Voice. They practiced their stories that coordinate with a video covering five areas: dark days, acceptance, treatment, coping skills, and hopes and dreams. They’ve taken their talk to churches, medical student classes, civic groups, and jail inmates.

Sisson, who says she had been in and out of the hospital for years before being diagnosed, talks about her first memories of having a mental illness. “I was four years old,” she said. “Always a good student and in bed by nine. At 24, I went to the hospital for the first time. Getting a diagnosis wasn’t easy.”

For his part, McGrover starts by going over a time when he was walking with a friend. “I think I did all the talking about what I was doing and selling my things and thinking I was doing all kinds of good”, he said. “My friend told me to go home. Turned out I was manic.”

By telling their stories, Sisson and McGrover say they hope they are changing people’s perception of mental illness. They both know they have done it.

“I had a woman come up to me after one presentation,” Sisson said. “She told me it helped her understand what someone close to her was going through, and that there’s hope. That made me smile.”

McGrover, too, sees hope in doing the In Our Own Voice presentations. “People understand, but they also see us as people, not an illness. People who hear us have had an extremely positive reaction.”

For more information, or to arrange a presentation of “In Our Own Voice for your group, call NAMI of Southwest Ohio at (513) 351-3500 or visit https://namiswoh.org/in-our-own-voice/.

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