by TOM SMITH
They say “it takes a village” to raise a child and that slogan is
true enough. From pre-historic times to
“not so long ago”, the clan, tribe, extended family, or small group did in fact
help raise the children. By the time we
came along, the raising of children was narrowed down pretty much to the
Since Fran and I moved away from our childhood homes and all the
multiple relatives and friends who lived there, got married in Ottumwa, Iowa,
and had our twins there before moving to Tulsa, another new city, we raised our
kids primarily within our nuclear family.
It actually worked out pretty well.
Until Karla was 19, in college, when she mysteriously plunged into
We immediately needed a bigger village. But we didn’t know it at first. After all, she was 19 and on her way to being
an adult. Our village days were over,
Wrong. That’s when we required
more help in supporting her, finding resources, and adjusting to her changed
behavior. We learned later that our
baffling and threatening situation was duplicated with millions of other
families, many of whom still don’t know how badly they too need a larger
village. That number is in the millions
because the population of the USA is around 320 million and the National
Institute on Mental Health estimates that one in five people are dealing
with a form of mental illness each year.
When mental illness comes into a family as a child or an adult, we
are summarily moved to a city named Chaos.
And we will stay there unless we create a village called Recovering.
In that new village, there is a street named Therapists where
counselors, psychologists, and psychiatric nurses live next to a cull de sac
for psychiatrists. Around the corner are
the homes of medical doctors and nurses who help integrate general physical
health with the mental health specialists.
One block west are homes for social workers, school counselors, and
occupational therapists. There is a
mental health hospital within walking distance with a fully trained staff in
all areas of mental illness, suicide prevention, and treatment recovery
procedures. Two blocks north is the Karla
Smith Behavioral Health center. To the east a few blocks there is a fitness
center with an indoor pool and which also sponsors yoga classes and a community
meditation room. There are a number of
churches nearby with ministers and staff who understand the relationship
between mental health, physical health, and spiritual growth. There are sober-living group homes not far
away in case our loved one with mental health or substance abuse issues requires
that kind of living arrangement and social interaction. If an appropriate job is helpful, there are a
number of opportunities a short bus ride away.
A park with trees and open spaces is a brief walk down a small hill
where a bike and walking path weaves in and out of the trees surrounding a
small lake. Three blocks south is the
street where the family lives. Everyone
in that home and in the small village knows about mental illness and they apply
some helpful strategies to cope with it.
There are many such villages, some of them within large cities and some
of them in rural communities. But there
is a need for many more of them.
This picture of a village focused on mental health is idyllic and
often unavailable in the real world. But
it does describe the kinds of services needed for managing mental illness
within a community setting. Each
situation is unique and adjustments must be made depending on available
resources but as close as a family can get to this description, the more likely
the recovery will be. The creation of a larger
village is critical, regardless of the specifics.
Organizations like Karla Smith Behavioral Health are
valuable centers for providing and finding the help families so desperately
need to cope with these devastating problems. These organizations are
In future columns, I will describe some of these village streets,
homes, and service centers in more detail.
In any case, it does take a large village of supporters, professional
and non-professional, in many categories to cope with mental illness or
The larger the village, the better.
If you have comments or questions about these columns,
please email Tom Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
more about the services of Karla Smith Behavioral Health go to www.karlasmithbehavioralhealth.org.