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Creating Safe Harbors for People with Mental Illness

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Heather Cobb

Sr. Director, Creative & Strategy, National Council for Behavioral Health

Creating Safe Harbors for People with Mental Illness

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While studying at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, Clarence Jordan’s professor pulled him aside to voice a concern.

“He was concerned about my loner behavior,” Jordan recalls. “He told me that I didn’t seem to take pleasure in going to the beach or in other activities outside the classroom that other students enjoyed.”

After earning his MBA and leaving the service, Jordan says, “Things began to escalate.”

He bounced from job to job and from town to town — Memphis, Atlanta, Houston, Atlanta again, Nashville, Louisville. No job lasted more than 18 months. The former Navy officer struggled to get out of bed and says he felt like “a ship without a rudder.”

“Employers offered me every opportunity to succeed, but the depression always came back.”

Jordan masked the pain with alcohol and other drugs. By his early 40s, he found himself in and out of jail for vagrancy, trespassing, and other minor offenses. While living in Nashville, he was evicted from his apartment and started living on the streets.

“I still didn’t know what was going on, so I never got any treatment.”

In court for a fifth probation violation, a judge ordered Jordan into a six-month drug treatment program. He was diagnosed with several co-occurring disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression with psychotic features, and alcohol addiction.

“I still couldn’t see my life getting any better. I was resigned to a life of nothingness. I had let down everyone that I ever loved — two wives and two daughters that I never spent any significant time with.”

His six months in treatment turned into two years. With medication and therapy, life started getting better. When his counselor found him a job, for the first time in years, he saw a chance “to be the professional I always wanted to be.”

He started working in the Resource Center at Nashville’s Foundations Recovery Network, led by noted behavioral health expert Michael Cartwright. Three weeks into the job, Cartwright came into the library and handed Jordan a stack of books.

“He wanted me to become a subject expert in co-occurring disorders. The more I read, the more empowered I felt. I was finally finding out who I was.”

Clean and sober since 1997, Jordan is now Vice President of Wellness and Recovery at Value Options in Memphis where he leads a multidisciplinary team to promote access to behavioral health services for underserved groups such as the military, African American community, and Medicaid populations. Before joining Value Options, he worked for 12 years as Tennessee’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Planning Council and as a member of the Consumer Advisory Board where he helped develop the state’s peer certification program.

Jordan knows that every individual has a unique road to recovery and he’s passionate about helping them discover that road. His health promoter program coach’s people as they pursue recovery with a strengths-based, person-centered perspective. Jordan believes in giving people “fishing poles, not fish.”

Jordan has received numerous awards, including the National Council’s 2014 Peer Specialist of the Year Award of Excellence and the 2010 SAMHSA Consumer Leadership Award.

“Today, I’m blessed with meaningful work to help people with mental illness have a safe place to live and engage in fulfilling work. We need to continue to develop programs designed to bring them productively into society.”

His example and leadership will certainly make that happen for those he works with.

For more information on Jordan and the Awards of Excellence, visit www.TheNationalCouncil.org/Awards.

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