Nick and Pierre

Friends with mental illness work to change minds about mental health

Six-and-a-half years ago, Nick and Pierre met in a group home. Since that time, they’ve overcome barriers, managed their diagnoses and are now using their stories to empower others and reduce the stigma around mental illness.

Supporting each other through mental illness

After a traumatic hospitalization, Pierre started working with Family & Children’s Center’s Community Support Program (CSP) in 2010. The program provides comprehensive mental health, substance abuse and case management services to adults diagnosed with a severe and persistent mental illness.

At first, it was a rocky road—Pierre was dealing with extreme trust issues, suicidal thoughts and looking for acceptance (where none was to be found) with his family. But that all began to change when he started working with his new case manager, Julie.

Julie connected Pierre with a primary health provider and psychiatric care. She also helped Pierre work on understanding his diagnosis of schizophrenia, medication management and building positive support systems.

And one, if not the largest, positive support in Pierre’s life is his friend Nick. “I met Nick at a group home in my darkest hours and he’s been a big motivation in my life,” said Pierre.

Nick, like Pierre, has mental health challenges that started in his teens. Nick was resilient and made it through part of college, got married and had a baby, but his mental health started to decline.

“I tried being a stay-at-home dad,” says Nick. “I would feed my child, but not myself, and I was having horrible panic attacks.”

After being hospitalized every two weeks from anxiety, Nick eventually made his way to Family & Children’s Center’s Individual Placement and Support program (IPS).

IPS helps people struggling with mental health disorders find meaningful employment. Leah, Nicks’ case manager, helped him get his extreme worry, anxiety and depression under control. She also continues to help Nick fill out applications, work on interview skills and stay on track with tasks at work.

Living with mental illness…in their own voice

In 2015, Nick and Pierre went through a training to become speakers for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) In Our Own Voice presentations. In Our Own Voice gives people in mental health recovery the opportunity to share their stories.

“You know you’re making a difference in people’s lives,” says Nick. “Knowing that I have an impact is very rewarding.”

Nick and Pierre have presented In Our Own Voice programs across the state and at local universities. Their work to change minds about mental health earned the two of them a Consumer/Peer of the Year Award at the La Crosse Chapter of NAMI Iris Awards this past May.

As shining examples of positive recovery, Nick and Pierre offer education and hope to others through their stories, and they are a constant beacon of light for each other.

“Wherever I go, you’ll always have a place in my heart. When you have a friendship like ours, you don’t ever let that go,” says Pierre.

Nick’s dream is to become a peer support specialist and to someday become a broadcaster, while Pierre wants to take over running his grandfather’s cottage in upstate New York. Until then, they’ll continue being a role model for each other and for others.