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Stand Up Against Stigma

We Are More Than Our Mental Illness

There are many kinds of mental health disorders – depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and others – and while we don’t know all the causes, we do know that they are not the result of weakness or personal failing and that they are highly treatable. In fact, with treatment and support, 70-90% of people with a mental health challenge report reduced symptoms and improved quality of life. We also know mental health disorders are not the defining trait of an individual, rather they represent just one part of their complex identity.

Stories of Recovery and Resilience in Our Community

In every neighborhood, behind every door, there are extraordinary individuals facing the challenges of serious mental illness with courage and determination. They are not defined by their conditions, rather it is just one piece of who they are. They are moms, dads, business owners, and community leaders. We are proud to share some of their stories, showcasing the richness and diversity that make up our community.


Ashley grew up in a home with domestic violence and substance use. At an early age, she was removed from her home and placed into foster care, eventually being placed under her grandparent’s care. From an early age, she received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. For a long period, Ashley struggled with severe anxiety, but thought it to be “normal” and just the way she was.

Knowing that she wanted to help others struggling with mental health challenges, Ashley began her journey toward becoming a peer support specialist. As she began to learn about mental health diagnoses, Ashley recognized a lot of her symptoms being described and a light bulb clicked – “I have anxiety, no wonder I feel the way I feel all the time”.

Ashley found temporary relief from her anxiety through exercise, something she continues to this day. However, the relief she found from exercise wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t realize that medications could’ve worked as well as they do until it got to a point where I was just in despair, I was so anxious all of the time.”

“The reason that it took me so long to get on medications is because of all of the things that you hear, it made me very cautious about doing it, I wasn’t open-minded but when I tried the medications, I realized that I had been putting myself through so much suffering that was unnecessary. I’m able to be present in the moment with my children, before medication and therapy I know there were moments that I missed.”

With the help of medication and therapy, Ashley has gone on to have a successful career maintaining two jobs, while also being a good mother and present with her two children. She still loves to exercise and enjoys doing things that fulfill her soul like traveling and teaching her kids new things.

What is one thing you wish people knew about mental health?

“You can have mental health challenges and still be happy and grateful, like truly fulfilled in your life. Just because you have a mental illness, doesn’t mean that is all your life is. There’s so much more to life than just my mental health. I wish people in our community were less judgmental.”


Don is a dedicated individual with a passion for giving back to his community and a deep commitment to his roles as a father, husband, brother, and son. He is extremely active within his community, serving as a baseball coach, as well as occupying multiple roles within the mental health field.

Throughout his life, stemming from childhood trauma, he has had a complex mental health journey himself. Over the years he has faced severe depression, anxiety, and psychosis, as well as experienced incarceration, hospitalization, and substance use challenges. Don’s journey to recovery has been a process of trial and error. He has tapped into various support services, such as residential treatment, and spent time finding the right medications. He has surrounded himself with a positive support group and when there were times he felt like giving up, they kept him moving forward.

“Being on medications, support groups and following suggestions have kept me good.”

“It’s very important to point out the strengths in individuals, to hold out the beacon of light at the end of the tunnel when they may not see it.”

With the right tools, he has accomplished things that he never thought he would: obtaining a high school diploma, reaching for a college education, working for the County of Riverside, and giving back to others who are struggling. He has dedicated his life to giving back to others what was given to him.

“Going through what I’ve gone through has made me resilient, it’s given me hope that I can accomplish anything.”

“I’m very comfortable sharing my lived experience with mental health challenges because its people who shared their lived experiences with me that fostered hope.”

What is one thing you wish people knew about mental health?

“Know that not everyone’s brain is the same. I have to take medications to make sure I’m not anxious all the time or depressed when nothing is going on. Being able to accept that is the biggest challenge that I had to overcome. The people with mental health challenges are people too. We need more education, empathy, and humility.”


Pedro considers himself a servant at heart, whether that be at work, at home, within the community, or with people in recovery, helping others is what fills his cup. He enjoys a good cup of tea, reading, and journaling every day. It is the little things that bring him joy and his journey through recovery has led him to appreciate and acknowledge these things more.

His path has not been without its challenges. Throughout his life, he experienced 16 years of addiction, two suicide attempts, multiple psychiatric hospitalizations, and two mental health diagnoses. Despite this, Pedro does not let these moments define him.

“I have come to believe that I am far more than what happened to me or my diagnoses, regardless of how drastic my experience may look like.”

Once, Pedro walked around like he was “10 feet tall and bulletproof”, but now he understands the importance of accepting his mental health and empathizing with other’s experiences as well. He believes that everyone is fighting their own battles and emphasizes the importance of never being a stumbling stone on somebody else’s path.

“We all have a little bit of something going on. Not everyone requires services, but everyone has a struggle whether it’s external, internal, marital, economic, spiritual, everyone is in a battle with themselves or whatever this thing called life is.”

“Just because I experience the world in a different way does not make me different than you.”

What is one thing you wish people knew about mental health?

“Know your community resources, you never know when you are going to be called on to help another human.”

Recognizing Symptoms

It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms that may indicate you or someone you care about is facing mental health difficulties. Identifying signs and symptoms early on allows you or your loved ones to access the support and assistance that can significantly impact your well-being. These signs can manifest in a variety of ways, such as changes in behaviors, mood or thought patterns. Learn more about the signs and symptoms here.

Help is Available and Recovery is Possible.

We all experience different levels of mental health throughout our lifetime, but when mental health challenges are persistent and interfere with daily life, such as work or relationships, it’s time to seek additional support. If you or someone close to you is experiencing symptoms of a mental health challenge, help is available, and recovery is not only possible but achievable. Learn more about treatment and recovery here.

Stand Up Against Stigma

Mental health affects us all in some way, whether it’s our own struggles or those of people we know and care about. All of us have a reason to take action to help to create safe and supportive communities where we can talk openly about mental health without fear and access support when it is needed. Learn more about how you can get involved here.