Abby Ng, Rome Gandelsman and Princess Byers

Confronting Mental Health Issue in 53206

Behavioral nurse who grew up in high-poverty zip code takes on mental health issue.

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Lauren Hubbard, 29, said she remembers seeing police drag people away in handcuffs during drug raids blocks away from her childhood home in the 53206 ZIP code. After witnessing the arrests of her neighbors, she said she was left feeling sad, confused and anxious.

Hubbard’s family, friends and church were there to help her cope with those feelings, but she said some people do not have the same support network. That is why Hubbard became a mental health care nurse.

“I want to be that helping hand because I wouldn’t be here if someone hadn’t helped me,” said Hubbard, nurse manager in the emergency department of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD). “I feel really proud of where I come from, and of the parts of Milwaukee that helped raise me and grow me into a well-rounded person. I really strive to help the next person.”

While working as a nurse for residents of central city neighborhoods, Hubbard said she realized the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“The stigma about mental health does nothing but separate us when we all need to come together,” Hubbard said. “Oftentimes, the public responds a certain way because we assume a person should be able to control themselves, but that’s where a lot of the conflict can occur.”

Destinny Fletcher, poetry teacher and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin community navigations specialist for 53206, said she sees stigma being passed down from generation to generation. Some parents are reluctant to discuss and acknowledge mental illness with their children. Fletcher said she had a student with depression, whose father told her that depression is a white person’s disease.

“We talk about financial health, medical health, physical health but we don’t talk about mental health because to a lot of people [in 53206] it doesn’t exist,” Fletcher said. “‘What goes on in this house stays in this house,’ is a very familiar quote for many families.”

Nicole Newson, 21, who grew up in Milwaukee and works in 53206, experienced this generational stigma firsthand. When she could not tell her parents about her depression, she turned to poetry.

“I thought I was a strong black woman, and I could deal with it on my own, but I had to realize that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Not talking about the situations I had gone through, not talking to anybody, was not helping me,” Newson said.

Newson found a therapist after joining City Year, a community service organization where she was able to open up about living with depression.

“If someone my age was on their own, it would be more difficult because people don’t talk about [resources],” Newson said.

According to Hubbard, not talking about mental illness is dangerous because it prevents people from getting help.

“A lot of individuals don’t seek services, don’t know what services are available. They feel ashamed, falling victim to that stigma.”

Hubbard suggests the key to starting conversations about mental health is education. She wants to see schools teaching common mental health diagnoses, and she wants young people to know there is no shame in mental illness.

“Speaking to our youth, speaking to the children, being a trusted and non-judgmental part of their lives is where this all starts,” she said. “I think that’s one of the most important challenges, to get these conversations started in schools and churches and to open up that discussion between parents and kids. … If we don’t mold them during growth and development that’s when we lose our chance.”

As part of a campaign for BHD, Hubbard has appeared on local television and radio stations. She said she hopes to eliminate generations of stigma by promoting conversation about mental illness.

Hubbard is also committed to being an advocate for her patients. “Everybody needs someone to listen to them. Usually that’s where my job starts and where their road to recovery starts,” Hubbard said.

While there are mental health organizations such as IMPACT and M&S Clinical Services that partner with BHD, Hubbard said the 53206 community needs more mental health care providers, and it needs more funding and staffing support.

Part of BHD’s campaign featuring Hubbard focuses on recruiting mental health care nurses. She said stigma can make hiring nurses a challenge.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what mental health care is about,” Hubbard said. “To one who might not know what happens inside of a facility, or a clinic or a place that provides behavioral health treatment, it might seem kind of taboo to think about or participate in. But personally, it’s the most rewarding work I can think about doing.”

Hubbard wants potential nurses and Milwaukee community members to remember one thing: “Be there for each other . . . We’re all that we have. Start to build up this community from the inside out. Nobody else knows what 53206 needs but the people that live there.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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