Bryan Values Open Dialogue as Consumer and Family Liaison
January 1, 2009
By Elisabeth Kristof
Stephany Bryan's new position as a consumer and family liaison is the realization of a dream she has nurtured since she first learned of the foundation's work 15 years ago. "I've wanted to work for the Hogg Foundation for years because its values and vision are very much in line with my own," Bryan said.
Though Bryan shares the foundation's vision of promoting mental health in Texas, her perspective is unique. As both a mental health consumer and mother of a child with mental health needs, Bryan's personal knowledge of mental health services, crisis and recovery extend beyond the academic and political spheres.
"There's a big difference between being a consumer of mental health services and a family member of a consumer. I've seen what it's like from both perspectives," Bryan said.
Bryan and her children are survivors of domestic violence, which she believes had a significant impact on their physical, emotional and mental health. Eventually they escaped and found refuge, first in shelters for women and children and later through a variety of public services.
"We left with the clothes on our back and not much else. We never looked back. It was the first time in my adult life that I had ever been alone," Bryan said.
Taking that step gave Bryan the time and space to begin her own recovery from depression and to help her children learn to be successful and independent. "I discovered that there is life after trauma. There is opportunity for recovery. There is hope. And everybody deserves a fair shot at that," she said.
Bryan began a journey of advocacy for both herself and her children. In 1994, she became a family representative on the Travis County Community Management Team and Community Action Network. In 1998, she became parent coordinator for The Children's Partnership in Travis County. The program was the first federally funded Texas program to implement systems of care for children with mental health needs and their families.
With state funding and support, she participated in the Parent Collaboration Group, a nationally recognized model for developing partnerships between child welfare agencies and parents of children in state care. The group advises the state's child welfare board on policies and works with parents across Texas to teach them how to navigate the child welfare system, explain their rights, develop new parenting skills and regain custody of their children.
Bryan volunteers as chair of the Parent Collaboration Group and has worked for the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health and the American Institutes for Research since 2005. She is a gubernatorial appointee to the Texas Integrated Funding Initiative and Texas Mental Health Transformation Working Group, two efforts to improve the state's mental health system.
As a liaison, Bryan will help bring the voices of consumers of mental health services and their families to the foundation's strategic planning, grant making, programs and policy activities. A fundamental goal is to expand the dialogue on mental health. Because mental illness cannot be seen or touched, it often remains unaccepted and misunderstood, she added.
"Many people are uncomfortable talking about illness, treatment, recovery and resiliency related to mental health," said Bryan. "The complexity of these issues won't be understood until people overcome negative attitudes and stigma about mental illness, learn more about the underlying causes, and get the facts about wellness and recovery."
Overcoming this stigma is a process that, like civil rights or the women's movement, evolves with time and effort. Bryan's experience with depression showed her the healing value of openness and dialogue as the first step toward recovery. "I learned that nothing is ever so bad that you can't talk about it. It can and does get better. Recovery is possible," she said.