“Ask questions and listen to the answers” With Beau Henderson & Patsy Dolan Bouressa

Stop teasing people when they are clearly in pain, stop bullying people, ask questions and listen to the answers, share with others when you are hurting. As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Patsy Dolan Bouressa. Patsy Dolan Bouressa is the […]

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Stop teasing people when they are clearly in pain, stop bullying people, ask questions and listen to the answers, share with others when you are hurting.

As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Patsy Dolan Bouressa.

Patsy Dolan Bouressa is the Executive Director of the SIMS Foundation. She joined the SIMS Foundation in May 2017 as the Director of Clinical Services before taking the helm of the nonprofit in 2020.

The SIMS Foundation provides central Texas musicians, music industry professionals, and their dependent family members access to mental health and substance use services that allow them to thrive. Since its inception in 1995, SIMS has been at the forefront of making mental wellness and emotional well-being a priority for Austin, working to eliminate stigma, educate the public, and arm the central Texas music community with the resources needed to look out for themselves, and each other. SIMS has helped thousands of people access mental health and substance use recovery supports.

During her 14+ years in social work, Patsy has worked in a variety of settings with a diverse range of clients from a residential treatment facility for mentally ill children and teens to working with incarcerated individuals at Travis State Jail.

Patsy has always been a vocal advocate for those dealing with mental health and substance use issues and has served on many committees and working groups dedicated to improving the way in which behavioral health services are delivered. Currently, she works with the Austin Opioid Workgroup, the Planning Network Advisory Committee, and the Substance Use Disorder Workgroup in addition to partnering with several local non-profits who are focused on destigmatization and education.

Prior to obtaining her Masters in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin, Patsy had a lengthy career in Human Resource Management. The skills honed during her time in human resources continue to serve her well as she works to ensure that SIMS Foundation is stable and prepared to expand in both scope and reach.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I am the youngest of three kids in a military family, my father was in the Air Force. We moved around a lot when I was a baby, like most military families do. When my father retired, we moved to El Paso, where my mother was born and raised. I was in El Paso from third grade until I graduated high school and moved to Austin for school.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

The SIMS Foundation provides behavioral health services and supports for musicians, music industry professionals and their dependent family members. We also work to break down the stigma associated with mental health and substance use issues as well as to improve the ways in which behavioral health services are provided through education, community partnerships and advocacy.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The SIMS Foundation was created after a musician by the name of Sims Ellison died by suicide after years of suffering with depression. SIMS Foundation was purposely created so that others in the music industry could access the care they need. I personally became passionate about mental health and substance use issues early in life. My father is a person in recovery after decades drinking. I saw firsthand the damage that the addiction caused to him and to those who love them. In addition, I have an uncle who is now a retired psychiatrist. I used to spend hours talking to him about his work. Then after a very long career in Human Resource Management, seeing employees struggling in violent households, struggling with their own mental health issues and their belief systems keeping them from trying to get help and trying to help employees deal with their gender identity issues in an unwelcoming environment, I decided to get my Masters in Social Work.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I was still in Human Resources for a corporation I loved and had to conduct my 16th and final lay off of my career. I was lucky enough that my employer gave me a year’s severance so once we shut down the office, I took some much-needed time off. This was the summer of 9/11. I, like so many, was glued to my television all day. When the news came out that the passengers on Flight 93 pushed back against the terrorists and crashed the plane in that field, my first thought was how I hoped that all of the passengers were in a place in their life where they were happy with what they were doing and felt at peace with where they were in life. I realized that I would not have been able to feel at peace about what I was doing and where I was in life. So I explored various graduate programs and enrolled in graduate school.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Leading The SIMS Foundation through a global pandemic has not only tested our fortitude as an organization, but it has been challenging and quite interesting in so many ways. Due to the cancellation of SXSW and other events this year, we lost over $200k in fundraising revenue, vital for keeping the foundation running. At the same time, we’ve seen nearly double the number of clients utilizing counseling services and a 16% increase in the average cost of these services alone. Finding ways to help all of our clients — many of whom are under extreme stress resulting from the pandemic — and developing creative ways to raise funds while people stay safe at home has kept me moving nonstop since I took the helm a few months ago. In the month of May alone, SIMS’ clinical staff worked with 7 clients who were decompensating but due to the intensive case management and extensive coordination of care, we were able to not only keep those clients safe and out of a psychiatric hospital, we successfully aided in the stabilization of all 7 clients. Sadly, the number of clients coming to us in crisis continues to escalate as the pandemic continue. While this has been the most challenging of times, we have a fantastic team at SIMS and we are doing all that we can to support our music community’s emotional wellbeing.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My first mentor was my Uncle Armando, a psychiatrist. He shared his life story with me when I was very young, spoke with me regularly about his work, consulted with me when I began as a Social Worker, and in general encouraged me to end a very lucrative HR career for Social Work. Since then, I have crossed paths with brilliant clinicians, amazing case managers, compassionate techs working in psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment facilities. I learned so much from all of these folks and continue to do so to this day.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Ultimately, I believe stigma is always derived from fear. The stigma around mental health issues goes back centuries, initially starting during a time when no one understood what was happening with those afflicted. They were often viewed as possessed by something evil when in reality they were probably suffering with some form of psychosis. I believe that people stigmatize things they don’t understand or make them fearful. And, despite having come a very long way from the time when women were given hysterectomies when they were considered “hysterical”, mental health issues are not easily explained nor understood. There are also cultural and religious issues at play with many ethnic groups and races having various explanations for mental health issues and their own belief systems about how or if to receive help.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

On an individual level I feel it is important for those who have some sort of mental health issue to no longer feel as though they have to hide it. Secrecy is very detrimental when one is struggling emotionally. Sharing one’s story will allow the person hearing it to feel that it is okay to speak up about what they are feeling. As a society we need to do away with throw out phrases that are meaningless and harmful. Examples are “Just get over it”, “Just pull yourself up by your boot straps”, “Stop whining and just deal with it”, etc. Additionally, in Western society we teach our boys that they are not allowed to feel or express their feelings. We tell them that “boys don’t cry” and they need to “be a man”. And then we wonder why men are often unwilling to share their emotions, much less be willing to go to therapy. Our healthcare systems needs a giant overhaul but at a minimum there needs to be true parity for behavioral healthcare services. While the ACA made it required to have “parity” on insurance plans they have not truly achieved parity. Currently, if an insurance plan on the marketplace has a $10 copay to see your PCP they are required to have the same copay for therapy sessions. This sounds good until you realize that for therapy to be effective, especially at the start of a therapeutic relationship, the client needs to go to sessions weekly. That means that individual has to come up with $40 per month for their therapist, or $480 per year. So having a plan with the same copay for physical healthcare doctors’ visits and for behavioral healthcare office visits looks great on paper, it is most definitely NOT parity. The healthcare system needs to also allow for the client to have the right to choose their care. Most insurance plans do not pay for all levels of care offered in our behavioral healthcare system. This often leads to people ending up being admitted to an acute psychiatric hospital when had they been able to access a Partial Hospitalization Program they could have avoided a traumatic hospitalization.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

This question certainly makes me realize that I am not doing all that I could because I have never had 6 strategies for this! I am a runner so I run. I love music so I listen to music. Sometimes I need other clinicians’ thoughts on things so I consult with those trusted colleagues. Nothing too exciting. Some weeks I succeed in my own self-care and others I don’t; I think for most of us who do this work need to pay more attention to our own self-care!

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

For me what inspires me to be a champion is all of my clients, their families and the others I work with in this battle. I can’t find any better inspiration than all of those out there dealing with their own mental health and substance use issues and those who love them. And, I am inspired daily by all those with whom I have been fighting for improved behavioral healthcare over the last couple of decades.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Stop teasing people when they are clearly in pain, stop bullying people, ask questions and listen to the answers, share with others when you are hurting.

How can our readers follow you online?

Website: https://simsfoundation.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simsfoundation

Instagram: @simsfoundation

Twitter: @SIMSfoundation

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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