life-restoredJessica Goldman may have had her whole life ahead of her… but she couldn’t see it. She felt hopeless, as though the world would be better off without her.

Outgoing, athletic and a competitive diver, Jessica felt increasingly isolated by emotions she didn’t understand. “I felt very lost, alone and confused,” Jessica says. “It was very hard to explain to people, even my parents, how I was feeling.” Those feelings built up within her until, one night, she was overwhelmed and consumed by panic. Her parents knew she needed expert help. They found it at Hartford Hospital.

In the emergency psychiatric unit, experienced physicians and nurses provided the understanding and compassion Jessica needed to feel calmer and more secure. A nurse, learning about Jessica’s love of the water, gave her a fuzzy, stuffed toy – a replica of Disney’s plucky little animated fish, Nemo. “I sometimes think of how different my first experience might have been if that nurse hadn’t been so caring,” says Jessica.

Jessica was admitted to the Institute of Living, Hartford Hospital’s psychiatric division, where she spent a week as an inpatient. “I had no idea what to expect, but it was the best experience I could have had,” she says. “Everybody there was so kind and caring. They really made the effort to understand. They listened to me more than I’d ever been listened to in my life. I felt that they genuinely cared and really wanted me to get better.”

After discharge, Jessica entered the Institute of Living’s Young Adult Services Program. The outpatient program is specially tailored to the mental health needs of people ages 17 to 26. It helps young people recover from their illness, manage their condition and make the transition back into their usual activities. Group therapy sessions are a major component of the program. “I started to thrive in the Young Adult Program,” Jessica says. “Having that connection with peers was something I’d been missing. There was a common understanding that you’re struggling right now, and we’re going to help you get through it no matter what.”

I sometimes think of how different my first experience might have been if that nurse hadn’t been so caring.

Jessica graduated from Young Adult Services – and from high school – in the spring 2012. At the height of her illness, she feared she would not be well enough to attend college. But that fall, she entered Central Connecticut State University. “That’s when I said,

‘There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I have a great future.’ When I got into college, I excelled. It was really like a fresh start for me.”

Today, Jessica is thriving. She’s majoring in psychology and still diving. She also works as the young adult coordinator for the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She arranges community- based support groups statewide for young people with mental health issues. As Jessica knows from experience,

“Mental illness is very stigmatized. It’s hard for people this age to seek help.”

Fortunately, Jessica overcame that stigma and sought help from the region’s leader in mental health care. Thanks to Hartford Hospital, she was able to both reclaim her own life and reach out to others. “In a way, I feel that this job is helping me give back,” Jessica says.

“I can never do enough to give back to all the people who helped me.”

Campaigning to Stop the Stigma

Jessica Goldman was able to recover because she sought treatment. But many people who struggle with mental health issues are reluctant to do so because of the stigma too often associated with mental illness. That’s why, in late 2013, Hartford Hospital launched the Stop the Stigma campaign. The multimedia initiative, soon embraced by all Hartford HealthCare partners, invited the public to sign an online pledge to eliminate society’s prejudice against those with mental illness. To date, more than 10,000 people have signed the pledge. Learn more – and sign the pledge – at StopTheStigmaCT.org