Nearly one out of every four people in the United States is diagnosed with some type of mental illness each year. Many more are undiagnosed and suffer anonymously in silence. May is Mental Health Month, and two clients of Woodland Centers of Montevideo courageously offered to share their stories in the hope that others may find the courage and strength to seek the help they need.

Tami McKesson of Dawson has been diagnosed with having depression and anxiety. “I’ve suffered from depression my whole life. I never actually realized it at the time, but I medicated my depression with alcohol,” she said. “My self esteem was low. My whole life I felt that everybody hated me and that I was ugly. The alcohol helped, but I was looking for happiness outside of me,” she continued. Her mental health issues affected her personal relationships, as well as her job. Her employer was very understanding, but eventually anxiety attacks forced her to leave her job.

McKesson knew she needed help. She spoke with a social worker from Lac qui Parle County who suggested that she join Alcoholics Anonymous. “It took me five years to beat the alcohol,” said McKesson. Even though she had beaten the alcohol, she still had feelings of guilt and depression. A positive turning point came when McKesson reconnected with an old friend, Mike Nelson, also of Dawson, who is now her fiancee. Nelson said, “We’ve known each other since we were teenagers. In adulthood, she moved away, and it wasn’t until years later that we met up again.”

Initially, their relationship was just on a friendship basis. “That was when I learned that Tami suffered from depression. She was honest with me about it, and that brought us closer together,” said Nelson. “Like any relationship, you take the good with the bad. When she’s up, she’s wonderful. When she’s down, it can be difficult, but I love her. She says I helped her a lot, but I don’t know if I feel I have. Maybe I’ve shown her that there is hope,” Nelson said. McKesson often struggles with guilt. “I haven’t worked for two years. I feel guilty, like I should be showing my boys I can work,” she said.

When her boys were little, she felt like she had to choose between work and being a mother. It was a difficult time for her. McKesson attends weekly group therapy sessions at Woodland Centers, and she feels it has been a positive step forward for her. “I want people to know there is help out there, but you have to make the decision. You have to want to be helped,” she said. Wade Kiefer of Montevideo has a different type of struggle with mental illness that is combined with physical issues. Four years ago, Kiefer was working at a heavy water pumping plant on the North Dakota oil fields.

On December 8, 2013, the building he as in exploded, causing Kiefer to suffer multiple physical injuries along with severe burns. As a result of the blast, Kiefer has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and has severe back and neck pain. He also battles constant sinus infections and has developed cataracts on both eyes. In the near future, he will undergo surgery on his neck vertebrae, and will also eventually have rods inserted into his lower spine. His doctors told him he couldn’t return to work, which was a severe blow. “I did my job well. I was making good money and supporting my children,” he said. “I am still hoping I can go back to work some day. I was very proud of my job,” he said.

When Kiefer was able to return home to Monte­video, things didn’t go so well. He was staying with his parents, but felt isolated. “I was lost. I stayed down in the basement because I had chronic head aches,” Kiefer said. He also had recurring nightmares of the explosion. “I’d jump out of bed at two or three in the morning thinking I was on fire.” Kiefer’s lawyer recommended that he go to Woodland Centers i Montevideo, and he has been there for a little over a year. “I’ve gotten a lot of help since I started going there,” he said. Kiefer takes part in one-on-one counseling sessions, as well as group sessions. He said, “I can’t wait to come to the group meetings on Thursdays. It’s an outlet for me.”

Group sessions offer a wealth of support for the clients. “Things have improved dramatically since I started coming here,” said Kiefer. “The support we give each other is incredible! Just knowing that everyone in the group suffers from some form of mental illness is comforting. It brings us together,” In addition to providing support for one another, the group sessions also are an opportunity for Woodland Centers staff to teach coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. Kiefer said, “I am just so grateful to be able to come here. Everyone is so helpful and supportive. my flashbacks and anxiety have been helped a lot!”

Kiefer offers this advice to those who may need help with their mental health: “You’ve got to get out. You have to make your own path. Keep your chin up and move forward. It’s okay to ask for help.” For Kiefer and McKesson, their path led them to Woodland Centers and the help that they needed. both are grateful for that help, and both will continue their battle against mental illness.

Woodland Centers of Montevideo is located along East Highway 7, and they can be contacted by calling 320-269-6581. There is also a 24-hour crisis hotline available by dialing 1-800-992-1716.