Using His Mental Illness to Help Others
Kurt Douglas Sass
2004 by Kurt Douglas Sass
In 1996, Daniel Frey’s future was bright. After graduating the highly respected Bronx High School of Science, he was now in his junior year of college, headed towards a B.A. Degree in English.
It was at this time Dan’s bright future fell apart. Dan started hearing voices, and believed the people on the television and radio were taunting him. He became extremely delusional and isolated. His strange behavior was marked by periods of walking around midtown Manhattan, taking only little baby steps with his head facing the ground, sometimes stopping to deeply inhale and exhale as he believed he was inhaling and exhaling evil spirits.
When Dan’s father noticed his unusual behavior, he took Dan to the hospital, where he remained as an inpatient for two weeks, mostly on such high levels of medication that he felt like a zombie.
Once discharged, Dan stopped taking his medication, only to be readmitted one week later. This time he stayed much longer, and his medication was adjusted to a more comfortable level.
With the medication now working to dissipate the voices and delusions, Dan set forth on a journey to turn his battle with schizophrenia into an opportunity to help others. First, he met with Ken Steele, Editor of New York City Voices, a newspaper promoting mental health advocacy, and became their Coordinating Editor. He also started attending support groups run by Mr. Steele for mental health consumers called Awakenings: Living Successfully with Mental Illness.
Unfortunately for the mental health community, Ken Steele passed away in the fall of 2000. It looked certain that both the newspaper and support groups would have to dissolve, thus leaving thousands of readers and many, many support group members devoid of these crucial and much needed resources. Seeing this, Dan took it upon himself to become the Editor-in-Chief of New York City Voices as well as the new leader of the Awakenings support groups.
I must state the following facts at this point. First of all, Dan was just 24 years of age he took on these monumental and highly responsible challenges. Second, he receives only a minute stipend for doing all of this. Third, both the newspaper and support groups are still flourishing to this very day, 3 years after Dan has taken the helm.
And if that wasn’t enough on his plate, Dan started taking on other projects. He began doing public speaking engagements. Over the last few years, he has spoken about living with and recovering from schizophrenia to literally thousands of people throughout the country. He speaks to mental health consumers and their family members, as well as mental health professionals, and, just as importantly, future mental health professionals. He has spoken to huge audiences at mental health conventions and conferences, as well as smaller audiences at hospitals, colleges, day treatment programs and many other venues. I must add at this point that the vast majority of these speeches are done strictly on a voluntary basis.
Dan also has made it a point to get the message out to as many people as possible that you can lead a full, productive life with mental illness. He has appeared on many television and radio programs (ex. ABC’s World News Tonight, National Public Radio, etc.) furthering this quest of educating the public, not only consumers, on mental health issues.
As an example of how Dan helps mental health consumers, I need merely to look in the mirror. After a major depression in 1998-1999, I was out of work and basically just sat around the house. I found out about Dan’s Awakenings support group, but was apprehensive at first. But Dan’s group was different. His was not a group run by a “professional” in a hospital, but rather run by a peer (Dan) in an apartment. This ambience of trust and friendship brought me out of my shell, and back into society. Within weeks I was back to work and writing. All this would not have been possible without him. This article is a way of my saying “Thanks, Dan!”
If one would look at Dan’s calendar today, they would see his dedication to helping and educating others battling mental illness has not waned. 3 days a week is devoted strictly to the newspaper, which has grown in circulation to nearly 15,000 copies per issue. 2 days a week Dan actually gets paid for something that he does. He works as a Peer Advocate, helping Senior Citizens with issues such as government benefits, health insurance and housing. In addition, he volunteers every other Saturday with adolescent psychiatric inpatients. He also, when time permits in his busy schedule, still gives as many of his inspirational and informative speeches as possible.
In 2003, Daniel Frey’s future is very bright, indeed.
I am a 47 year old mental health consumer who has battled mental illness since 1979. I am married for 23 years, and have a 21 year old son, who is developmentally diabled and bi-polar.
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