My son Nick has battled mental illness since he was a child. He was incarcerated at 18 where his condition deteriorated without access to necessary medical care and treatment. Nick was released after eight years—six of which he spent in isolation for behaviors consistent with an untreated bi-polar disorder. However, his freedom was short-lived. In the absence of treatment, my son, like millions of others, would self medicate. Just 103 days would pass before he would be reincarcerated for parole violation. He had overdosed on heroin. In spite of all of our resources, we could not get him access to the mental health professional he needed to help put his mind at rest. He couldn’t wait.
It was the summer of 2012, just two days after Nick was gone again, that I made a hotline call. I couldn’t see the value in waiting for tomorrow. My call rolled to the voicemail of a nurse practitioner at the VA. Now I was pissed off. I left a voicemail and the following day I sat with a wonderful psychiatrist who helped me manage my overwhelming grief. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 49 years old.
Initially shattered, I made the decision to fight back—to battle this disease with knowledge, transparency and grit. I enrolled at Penn State where I earned a master’s degree in health care policy and administration. While researching my graduate thesis, “Mental Health in America, a De facto Criminal Offense”, I recognized the devastating impact of the shortage and lack of access to mental health professionals. My research, coupled with personal experiences of mental illness was what compelled me to help others in need. No one should have to suffer alone.
In December of 2015, one year after I completed my degree, I turned down my dream job offer. Why? Because I knew too much about this underserved population of people and I couldn’t look away. I took that capstone project and put it use creating a paradigm shift.
The Quell Foundation is a Massachusetts-based not-for profit organization dedicated to normalizing the conversation around mental health; we are confident that by changing the way society views and treats people with a mental illness, we can reduce the number of suicides, overdoses, and incarcerations of people who live with a diagnosis.
We do this through Awareness Campaigns and Events such as our annual Masquerade Ball and our Lift the Mask documentary; by developing Access Channels to Bridge the Gap in care providers by funding scholarships to our next generation of caregivers, and by developing an advanced Training program to support our First Responder Community which is so incredibly necessary.
In just two years, The Quell Foundation has received nearly two million dollars in philanthropic support. We have distributed over $300,000 in scholarship awards to our Quell Fighters - students who have been diagnoses with a mental health illness, to our Quell Survivors - students who have lost a parent, caregiver, or sibling to suicide, and to our Quell Bridge the Gap scholars - our pipeline to the next generation of mental health care professionals. I find comfort and even joy in knowing that this Spring The Quell Foundation will be awarding our 3rd round of scholarships. We have students in 81 colleges spread across 26 states. In March we will hold our first screening of our “Lift the Mask” documentary; it is the culmination of a two-year project which gives the audience a very raw look into the life of people who live or have lived with a mental health diagnosis. We introduce the audience to our subjects; students; executives; parents; siblings; professionals, and friends to shatter the stigma, to put a face with an illness, and to normalize the conversation. With 1 in 5 persons in the United States living with a mental health illness, it is more than likely everyone knows someone.
Mental illness is not a personal failure. My dear friend Tanya out in Carlsbad, CA said it best, “A mental health illness is not a moral issue, it’s a medical issue.”
To tackle the world’s most prevalent disease we do it one person, one family, one community, and one day at a time. No one chooses to have a mental health illness. I know I didn’t.
ADAA is proud to partner with the Quell Foundation.
About the Author
Kevin Lynch, President and CEO of the Quell Foundation, is a veteran of the U.S. Naval Submarine Force and hospital system professional. He earned a master's degree in health administration from Penn State University and founded The Quell Foundation for mental health awareness & education after being diagnosed with clinical depression in 2012.