“We are so proud of John at Mission Hospital. He’s an amazing
man with a remarkable story. But John’s experience illustrates a
larger truth about the transformative power of holistic mental health
care. With proper recognition, a therapeutic community, and individualized
treatment by compassionate, highly trained professionals, people can overcome
their mental health challenges and regain their lives. In doing so, they
become models of success for others struggling with similar challenges.”
--Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D, Manager, Outpatient Mental Health Programs, Mission
Hospital Laguna Beach
When I say that my mental health struggle was a matter of life and death,
I’m not exaggerating. I mean it literally.
I ended up at Mission Hospital because I was suicidal. I was a 50-year-old
man with chronic health problems and very poorly-managed anger and intimidation
issues. I was already in a downward spiral, professionally and financially.
I was losing my career and most of my worldly possessions. I just wanted
to end it all.
One of my closest friends—an old military buddy—begged me not
to give up. He asked me to try mental health counseling. After a couple
of false starts, I enrolled in the outpatient program at Mission Hospital,
part of the St. Joseph Hoag Health network of care. After just four months,
even I can’t believe the transformation.
I’m recovering from triple-disc surgery for my severely damaged back
from working construction over 25 years. I’m staying on top of my
type 1 diabetes regimen. My anger and frustration and depression are all
completely under control. I’m enjoying healthy, loving, nurturing
relationships with my new partner and my friends. I’m back in school
and working on a new career in substance abuse counseling. And best of
all, I’m a founding member of Mission Hospital’s Mental Health
Patient & Family Advisory Council.
You want to know what the folks at
Mission Hospital and
St. Joseph Hoag Health did for me? They saved my life.
I’m committed to giving back by raising awareness, breaking the stigma
and letting others know about the resources available to them. On June
14, I joined St. Joseph Hoag Health and the Los Angeles Angels to draw
attention to mental health programs available in Orange County. Before
the game, we lifted up gloves to form the message, “You are not
alone” on the field during warm ups. I was honored to have thrown
out the first pitch.
My Turning Point
The road to recovery starts with a psychological evaluation—hundreds
and hundreds of questions covering every aspect of your condition and
your life. After that, the bulk of the treatment program is based on individual
consultations and group therapy sessions.
There are twists and turns on that road, and initially I was very skeptical.
In fact, I was 100% certain it was going to fail—or rather that
I was going to fail. But it didn’t take long for me to change my tune.
We were in a group therapy session, all talking about how we ended up in
the program. The discussions were very frank—no holds barred. I
was talking about my battles with anger and violent thoughts. I could
see the others listening intently to what I was saying. Some were repelled—some
were drawn in—but something was definitely happening. And then I
had my epiphany, a combination of two things I suddenly realized at the
same time. First, I thought to myself, this program is absolutely going
to help me. And, second, I can help the other patients, too. I was floored.
Group sessions expose the issues people are struggling with. They help
patients understand that they’re probably not going to be miraculously
cured. Take me, for instance. I’m never going to “cure”
my anger. It’s a part of who I am. But I
can control it. I can recognize the triggers. And I now understand the full
extent of what
can happen if I
don’t control my anger. So, I can modify my behavior to fit in with society—just
like everybody else. This program at Mission Hospital gave me that gift.
By actively participating in the program and interacting with the staff
and other group members, I was able to take a long hard look at myself.
I realized that I’d been using intimidation and anger as a defense
mechanism for most of my life.
I was not the typical mental health patient, or so I thought. I had no
anxiety or mania. No addiction or substance abuse issues. And I’m
a deeply reflective, introspective person. However, I’ve come to
realize that all those years of introspection led me to an erroneous conclusion—namely,
that I didn’t belong in normal civilian society. I started out in
the military where they taught me how to survive and how to kill. But
they didn’t teach me how to manage my anger. And they definitely
didn’t teach me that controlling my anger was totally up to me.
The secret to the success of the Mission Hospital program is the people—the
therapists. They manage to create a space that is demanding, yet supportive,
non-judgmental, and safe. They encourage you to own your story and share
it with the group—no matter how embarrassed or ashamed you might feel.
They are professional, creative, compassionate, and inspiring. They watch
everyone and listen to everything. Above all, they show you where to go—but let
you discover how to get there yourself. They let you own the pride and the
joy of discovering the better way for yourself.
Having gone through the program with these amazing, life-saving people,
I’ve come to realize that I’m not really an angry man after
all—even though I spent my whole adult life struggling with anger issues.
All I ever wanted to do was help other people. I joined the military because
I wanted to serve my country and take the hit for all the others behind
me. Even in my construction career, I wasn’t just doing a job for
the money—I was helping people fix a problem that they couldn’t
That was the second big epiphany I experienced at Mission: I can still
help people—like I’ve been doing all my life. I know I actually
helped other patients in the program—because they told me so. And
now I’m going back to school to forge a new career. I’ll still
be helping people, but now in a different capacity. I’m going to
school to become a drug and alcohol counselor and to earn my degree in
I’m also really proud of our work with the newly formed Mental Health
Patient & Family Advisory Council at Mission Hospital. We’re
all patients, all volunteers, helping Mission Hospital design better policies
and procedures to make the program even better. Because we’ve experienced
it firsthand—and that’s the kind of expert opinion they’re
looking for from people who’ve been there themselves.
For the first time in my life, I feel like I can finally be the person
I was always supposed to be. And I owe it to the life-saving mental health
doctors, therapists and nurses at Mission Hospital.
Find out more about
Mission Hospital’s mental health and wellness services.