Speaking out for mental health

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Trinity Group Homes director Clark Richman is the 2018 winner of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfareís Voice of Idaho Award for his success and perseverance recovering from mental illness and his tireless work to help others struggling with mental health issues. He received the award in a ceremony May 4 in the Idaho State Capitol and will again be honored at the Region 1 Behavioral Health Boardís meeting Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

It's not impossible to climb up from the rocky bottom of despair's unforgiving pit.

Clark Richman is living proof that even when the system fails, hope still exists for people struggling with mental health issues.

"I had intermittent bouts with psychiatric problems," Richman said in a phone interview Friday. "I had a 6-year period where I was really stable, but I've always dealt with this throughout my career."

Richman is a licensed counselor and the director of Trinity Group Homes, a program of St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho that provides safe, affordable, community-supported housing for adults with severe and persistent mental illness.

His introduction to Trinity was as a client when he was in need of stability after a psychotic episode landed him behind bars.

"It was super traumatic and challenging to be in jail," he said. ďI was really just distraught about if I did get released, how was I to survive? I didnít want my family to be taking care of a 44-year-old. I had professional education and all these things, but I was distraught about how I would survive."

Richman's descent into instability all began when he was in the Peace Corps in 1994. He was given the drug Lariam to keep away malaria, but the drug's side effects altered his life in a terrible way.

"A lot of people have psychiatric challenges, depression, hallucinations, delusions, psychosis," he said. "I had my first episode as we were being evacuated. There were some traumatic issues."

Paranoia, delusions, bi-polar disorder and bouts of psychosis plagued Richman for years. He said he tried to get help but at one point a doctor refused to treat him. His safety plan fell apart and he panicked, eventually having an encounter with law enforcement that led to incarceration.

"What kept me going was friends writing letters and my friends and family reaching out," he said. "Eventually Region 1 Behavioral Health interviewed with me ... Having those interviews was really important and gave me a little sense of hope."

Through these trials and tribulations, Richman became acquainted with Trinity. He found support, help and medical attention, and now works to help other people who are stumbling on†the dark path he once walked.

Richman's story of perseverance in the face of a misunderstood ailment inspired the Region 1 Behavioral Health Board to nominate him for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Voice of Idaho Award, which he received in a ceremony May 4 in the State Capitol in Boise. This award recognizes the success of an individual in recovery from mental health who has had a positive impact on his or her community.

"Clark Richman was nominated by the Region 1 Behavioral Health Board for his outstanding work in the community," said Claudia Miewald, chair of Region 1 Behavioral Health. "He is an advocate and a role model to those on the path to recovery. He assists many individuals with safe housing and tirelessly works to decrease stigma regarding mental illness. We are fortunate to have him as a partner in our community."

He will be honored again Wednesday during the next Behavioral Health board meeting.

"I felt really honored. I was taken aback; there's a lot of self-reflection about how things came to this," Richman said. "There are certainly people who fail or fall back, but they're given this opportunity for getting into classes and all these resources. I'm just one of a lot of success stories out there, so itís humbling."

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