Draper Mother, trained Peer-Support specialists seek to offer low-to-no-cost mental health support
Oct 10, 2019 11:15AM
By Jennifer J Johnson
Self-described “stay-at-home Draper mom” with a lifetime of mental illness Serena Millet is looking to provide peer-based mental health coaching for those with low to no income. (Serena Millet)
By Jennifer J. Johnson [email protected]
In the first scene of the blockbuster movie “Silver Linings Playbook,” Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat Solitano Jr., is stalling a meeting he has with the doctor of a mental health facility where he is institutionalized. Later in the film, he chides another therapist, Dr. Patel, for leveraging “not okay” tactics, which lead to his being “triggered” into a rage.
It is not until Pat coincidentally encounters Patel at a Philadelphia Eagles tailgate party that Pat begins to really bond with his doctor — half of whose face is revealed to be painted in the deep-green color literally classified as “Eagle Green” — and thus, make progress with his “brother in green.”
Even more significant is Pat’s meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Prior to their meeting, both know that each suffers from mental illness. The two quickly quiz each other about, then poke fun at, meds each has used and how they feel the medications drain their energy. Their connection is so quick and immediate they decide to skip the meal that brought them together.
Those who have not been treated for a mental illness may have trouble imagining meeting someone and then, within minutes of that first meeting, joking about medications and mental illness.
This same principle is at the heart of a new nonprofit a Draper mother and wife Serena Millet, who has had mental illness her entire life, hopes will change the landscape of possibilities for Utah’s poor and even homeless.
Insane Ability, which just received 501c3 nonprofit status in August, has state-regulated certified peer support specialists to speak with clients on the phone, via video chat or face-to-face.
These are not therapists, but, according to founder Serena Millet, are peers who can provide a valuable complement to a therapist, or serve as an affordable, here-and-now, stand-alone service to help the mentally ill, substance abusers and others just needing some guidance, cope on a day-to-day basis.
“Addiction to alcohol, drugs, manipulation of people, places and things.”
“Depression and anxiety.”
“My doctor shared my oldest sister’s mentality — that I would never get better.”
Meet Curtis, Katherine and Rachelle.
These are not Insane Ability clients. Rather, these are ever-healing individuals who have dedicated a year training to be certified by the state to help others in similar circumstances.
The art of the possible
Business school teaches would-be-entrepreneurs to find a problem to solve and then develop the product or service to satisfy it. In similar manner, Millet feels Insane Ability is a solution she would have wanted — even as a youngster growing up in Cottonwood Heights.
“My family wasn’t really into helping with therapy,” she says. “They never thought about getting me help, and I never asked about it.”
Once she finally did seek therapy — as a young 20-something — she found it unsatisfying.
“I didn’t really enjoy therapy too much. They are trained to help you, but they have never, personally, been through it.”
She — like Pat Solitano Jr. — felt “looked down on.”
Textbook versus coffee
A therapist is like learning from a textbook, whereas peer support is like becoming informed by sharing a cup of coffee with a trusted, street-smart confidant, Millet says.
“I joined a lot of support groups for mental illness — that helped me more, meeting and talking with other people,” she said.
Millet’s husband has severe contamination OCD. He spends hours, daily, washing and rewashing his hands. He has a hard time keeping commitments and schedules, and is, happily, luckily, cushioned and supported by working a job in sales for a family business. Such circumstances accommodate what seem like peculiarities associated with his mental illness.
A six-week engagement with a local treatment facility specializing in treating his disorder would cost $10,000 and is not an economic reality, Millet says.
Getting by with a lot of help from friends — and professionals
With her own family circumstances in her mind’s eye, Millet conceived the idea for Insane Ability last summer.
The name came to her as “something laid back, something to make people feel comfortable and not a bunch of extreme professionals looking down on you,” she says. The name, she says, is even a word few might associate with mental illness — “fun.”
The organization has a website and a Facebook page with several hundred likes. A team of certified peers started servicing clients in August.
When clients call in to the organization, the experience is unlike the clinical, intentionally professional personas of traditional mental health treatments. Millet’s children can frequently be heard in the background, or Millet herself may sound as if she is in the middle of doing something else — which, she likely is, as this is decidedly a shoestring nonprofit, only currently funded by her and her husband.
She says this type of “reality” is appreciated and can actually show vulnerability and enhance bonding.
“A lot of people I talk to are also moms or parents, and they laugh it off,” she says, laughing herself with the memory of some of the interactions.
Peering into the future
With her sights firmly set on reaching under-served populations in Salt Lake County — and ultimately, to the state at large — Millet is writing grants for funding and networking with others in the local mental health ecosystem.
Joselyn Romero, an education and inreach specialist and licensed clinical social worker for the State of Utah, is a member of Insane Ability’s board of directors.
Romero hopes to help the organization tap into Medicare and substance-abuse funding sources to “provide services and treatment to people who don’t have access.”
Frank Bedolla, executive director of the Fathers and Families Coalition of Utah, is looking to partner with Millet’s fledgling organization. Bedolla says he plans to refer parents needing support to the organization.
“I see them as coaches,” he says.
Insane Ability offers free peer counseling groups and affordable coaching sessions for individuals and couples. To reach them, check out www.InsaneAbility.org.