Faces of mental illness, 3 years later: Susan De Souza

Susan De Souza called herself one of the “in-betweens:” people not sick enough to be eligible for public help, but too poor to afford insurance on their own. She is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and remembers well the stress and uncertainty of living without health insurance. (Lauren M. Whaley/CHCF Center for Health Reporting)

This story originally appeared in the Modesto Bee.

 


When The Modesto Bee reported on the abysmal state of Stanislaus County’s mental health system in 2012, Susan De Souza called herself one of the “in-betweens”: people not sick enough to be eligible for public help, but too poor to afford insurance on their own.

She is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder and remembers well the stress and uncertainty of living without health insurance.

“I was going to my general practitioner, and he would supply me with my meds,” she said. “But if I was feeling a bit off, I didn’t have the money to go see a psychiatrist, so I kind of had to play around with medications myself – which wasn’t a good thing, but when you’re desperate, you do what you have to do.”

De Souza, 46, credits the Medi-Cal expansion with improving her access to mental health services. Under the Affordable Care Act, she, along with 1.4 million Californians, qualified for Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program for low-income residents.

“I was able finally to get back to a psychiatrist, to go talk to a counselor,” she said.

In 2014, she also graduated from Modesto Junior College with two associate’s degrees, one in human services and one in behavioral science. She’s close to getting a third, in chemical dependency counseling.

She works as a recovery specialist at Telecare Corp., based at the Stanislaus psychiatric health facility. She has had Kaiser health insurance through her employer for about a year now, but her past experience informs her work.

“I had had a really bad experience when I was going through my period of trying to get diagnosed and get medication and services,” she said. “Once I got well, I wanted to make sure that people would have somebody who knows what they’re going through, what they’re feeling, and to try to help them get the services that they need.”

She hopes that her openness will help fight the stigma around mental illness. 

“We need to get more people who are willing to come and say, ‘Yes, this is my story, but I can be successful in life,’ ” she said. “I can still do things that everybody else does.”

 

 

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Lauren M. Whaley

Freelance journalist Lauren M. Whaley is a photographer, radio producer and print reporter specializing in topics related to mental illness, reproductive health care and health disparities. She is also a childbirth photographer.This year, She is working on a series about how low-income parents access care for perinatal mental illnesses. The project is funded in part by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.She was a 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.Her work has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) STEM story project. She has contributed radio, video, photography and written stories to KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and other media outlets. For six years, she worked as the Center for Health Reporting's multimedia journalist. She is a past president of the national organizationJournalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and spent her early 20s leading canoe expeditions for young women, including a solo-led 45-trip in the Canadian Arctic. She is based in Los Angeles.

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