As a child, Brian was treated as a troublemaker. Although his parents sensed something was wrong, they didn’t realize he was dealing with bipolar disorder.
Now, as an adult, Brain says he’s gotten used to people treating him differently because of mental illness. “When people hear that people [deal with] bipolar, a red flag goes up and they think you’re some kind of maniac. In general, they’re scared of you. They’re scared you’re going to get mad,” he shares.
But for the past year, Brian has found a place of acceptance at The Well Community. He’s also found a home at Jacob’s House, a City of Dallas licensed boarding house run by The Well. Jacob’s house provides not only a place to stay, but also nutritious meals, friendship and support for eight men who live with mental health challenges. Residents experience kindness both in the house and in the surrounding community through neighbors who are strongly supportive of Jacob’s House and are genuinely concerned about the well-being of the men who live there.
Those who deal with serious mental health conditions often find it difficult to obtain or keep a job, leaving many without income to pay for housing. And, they frequently struggle to manage the responsibilities of maintaining their own living spaces on top of dealing with the symptoms of their illnesses.
Both of these factors put those living with mental illnesses at a higher risk of being without a safe place to live. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), individuals dealing with mental and/or substance use disorders can be particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless or being precariously housed. The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance reports that in 2016, nearly half (43 percent) of the homeless population in Dallas lived with a mental illness.
Stigma from potential landlords and neighbors can also make it difficult to find housing. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, two thirds of respondents said they weren’t willing to have a person dealing with a serious mental illness as a neighbor.
Brian has experienced this multifaced challenge firsthand. In addition to dealing with stigma, he says it’s hard for him to maintain a job and develop friendships, and his illness often takes up much of his mental energy. “My mind won’t stop. Even though I’m treated, my mind still races a lot, and it’s to the point where it keeps me awake at nighttime.”
Brian has seen how living with a mental illness has limited his opportunities, particularly in the workforce. He recalls making mistakes because he struggled to take in more than one or two instructions at a time. “I can’t have a whole bunch [of directions] in my head because I get things mixed up. In the work environment, sometimes they would just pile things on top of me. It just becomes overwhelming.”
Brain says he felt ganged up on at work due to these struggles, like everyone was watching him. “[Co-workers would say], ‘Brian messed up. It’s Brian’s fault.’ Sometimes people wouldn’t take their own responsibility.” He remembers frequently becoming a scapegoat. “I was the easy target,” he says.
But, Brian emphasizes, he didn’t struggle with a desire to fulfill his responsibilities on the job. “It’s not because I don’t want to do it; it’s because I’m the kind of person that has to check things two or three times.” Brian shares how he struggled at a factory job because he would get behind while making sure his work was right. “I couldn’t get it in my head to let it go.”
That conscientiousness serves Brian well as House Manager of Jacob’s House. He ensures that the house is in compliance with licensing requirements and oversees aspects of daily life there, including keeping the house stocked with groceries and coordinating meals with the cook. He also helps new residents get acclimated and monitors medications, making sure all who live in Jacob house stick with their treatment plans.
Brian also helps make Jacob’s House a place where men who live with mental illnesses are treated with kindness and welcomed into community—a sharp contrast compared to the treatment he and his fellow residents have often received in their communities and on the job. “They just didn’t quite understand,” Brian says of his former co-workers and employers. “I didn’t go in there and advertise that I’m bipolar and have hallucinations, but I got a sense that people noticed something’s wrong. … They’d be unkind.”
Although Brian is doubtful that most former neighbors and co-workers would be willing to change, he offers a suggestion for people who want to better understand those who live with mental illnesses: “I would want them to expect less.” He explains that satisfactory performance on the job takes quite a bit of effort for him, and encourages others to have reasonable expectations. “Just making the quota is actually an accomplishment for me—anything extra and you’re probably asking for too much.”
The Well Community offers support and a shelter from stigma for those dealing with serious mental illnesses. Your gift to The Well will help address underlying issues that lead to housing challenges among these individuals, and provide them with opportunities to pursue self-sufficiency.