The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

July 21, 2013

Suffering in the Shadows: Resources exist for those who need help

— Jim Hickman of Huntsville was a college student talking to a girl after class one day when he realized something was awry. He felt like he knew what the girl was going to say even before she said it, as if he had suddenly developed extra-sensory perception.

In the days that followed, Jim began to hear conversations in his head. One involved his grandmother and a college professor who were vampires trying to use him as a medium to form a union, he said.

His world began to slowly unravel. More psychotic episodes and, eventually, hospitalization, followed.  Jim, whose dream was to become a lawyer and change the world, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 21.

“Even though my mother had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, she died when I was 7, I really hadn’t given mental illness much thought,” Jim said.

Eventually, Jim found help at the Mental Health Center of Madison, which he credits with saving his life.

With the help of medication, therapy and housing assistance, Jim got control of his illness, graduated from college and went on to become a therapist — first for the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama (MHC), which serves Limestone County, then for the Mental Health Center of Madison. He even wrote a book about his ordeal titled “The Mindful Son: A Beacon of Hope through the Storm of Mental Illness.”

Access to help limited

Jim is one of the thousands of people in Alabama who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. It is estimated that one in five people suffer from a major mental health issue at some point in their lives, according to the MHC. Illnesses range from panic attacks, depression and post-traumatic stress to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

There are a number of mental health resources, listed below, that are available to Limestone County residents, including those on Medicaid or Medicare. However, it is estimated that nationwide six out of 10 Americans living with mental illness have no access to mental health care, mainly because they are under age 65 or have no children and therefore do not qualify for Medicaid, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Alabama’s recent decision to decline $14 million in federal Medicaid-expansion dollars would have, in part, covered 78,691 uninsured adults with mental illness, NAMI says.

In Alabama, increasing health care and prescription drug costs as well as a growing population, particularly in North Alabama, have strained resources for mental health care, as they have in other states. Here is a list of places Limestone County residents can find mental health assistance:

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