She had just started a new job at a large company in Chattanooga when Stacey Hurst developed first episode psychosis.
“Psychosis is the condition that people think about when they think about paranoid schizophrenia,” says Hurst. “It’s where someone isn’t in a shared reality anymore. I had memories that hadn’t really taken place, but I remembered them.”
She was just barely living day to day. Starting a new job. Coping with the loss of her father. She had paranoia about being hurt. She thought she was being followed. She was convinced that someone was out to harm her family. It was like having vivid dreams that are hard to distinguish from actual memories.
“It was a situation in my brain that happened that I didn’t ask for. If I could have turned it off, I would have,” adds Hurst. “It wasn’t just a break. It was a gradual sort of descent.”
Looking back, she says her illness was similar to her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s.
“Because she does have those times where she thinks that you might have said something horrible to her and you never did, but she remembers it because there’s some mechanism in her brain for writing those memories that isn’t working properly,” says Hurst.
But Hurst’s condition was treatable. And along her road of recovery, something clicked. Perhaps it was when she met a nurse practitioner who took the time to listen to her and offered hope, actually speaking to her about a future, one beyond her diagnosis.
She soon recognized what someone in her position needed—understanding and hope. She knew her personal experiences could help her connect with others fighting their own battles.
So she became a certified peer recovery specialist and joined the Healthy Transitions team at Volunteer Behavioral Healthcare Systems. This fall, she’s continuing her education by pursuing a master’s degree in social work at UTC. She hopes to become a licensed clinical social worker and a therapist.
She is working with UTC students through BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students), an intervention program that connects her with students who might be struggling with alcohol and substance abuse.
“We are a community of people who want to help each other,” says Tricia Henderson, assistant director for the Office of the Dean of Students.
“How can we be a community of Mocs who care for each other? What does that look like when we do care about each other?” adds Henderson. “We’ve just got to figure out what that looks like and what our resources are.”
To cultivate a community of care on campus, plans are already shaping up, not only with BASICS but with other programs such as StepUp!
Did you know?
• UTC offers counseling to students at no cost.
• The Counseling and Personal Development Center offers testing, psychiatric services, referrals, consultation and outreach. Some costs may apply. For details, visit their website here.
• An on-campus counselor is available on-call 24/7 at (423) 425-4537.
• Groups including Exploring Yourself Through Art, Healing is Possible (HIP) Group Therapy and De-stress and Refocus Group meet on campus weekly. Click here for more details.
StepUp! will teach students, faculty and staff what to do if they notice signs of struggle in someone they know.
“You know where you get that gut feeling like, something’s off here; I may need to do something? Most of us are reluctant to actually intervene. StepUp! teaches a safe way to do that. It helps teach students how to be more proactive about what they are seeing,” Henderson explains.
Henderson also is working with the Student Advocacy Council to create the Advocate Initiative, a series of training workshops that cover topics including suicide prevention and bystander intervention as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Such workshops already existed for faculty and staff, but there was a recognition that students can also play an important role in keeping the Mocs community healthy.
Another resource for the UTC community is the Mocs Now application available to download for IOS and Android. Included with the app is the UTC Cares Resource Guide. The guide is a go-to resource for students, family members or faculty and staff. It guides users on how to handle situations involving illness, suicidal thoughts, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault, discrimination and accommodations for disability.