New Health Care Law Unlocked Door to Recovery for SMH Client

For years, Sound Mental Health client Donna Shaw didn’t think she’d make it. Perhaps it was the trauma she suffered after the Jan. 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which claimed the lives of 88 people, including a close friend. Maybe it was her unstable childhood that left a sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Possibly it was the knowledge that, from the very beginning, “something was off” with her. Or, more likely, it was each of these things, building over time, that lead Donna to attempt suicide in 2009.

This open and outgoing woman, who held a job for 18 years as a flight attendant with Alaska Airlines, represents the type of individual that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 was intended to help: people who, for various reasons, are unable to afford and access adequate health and mental health care. Without coverage, these individuals go without the services they need to enjoy full, productive lives. Without these services, people struggle, often getting worse over time.

Despite a turbulent childhood, Donna grew up to be a high-functioning adult. She had a demanding job for years, paid her bills on time, nurtured friendships—and somehow kept her struggles in check. Then, Alaska Air 261 happened. This inevitably resulted in a downward spiral that eventually led her to SMH in 2011. She struggled, though, due to gaps in her health coverage, which impacted her medication.

“Part of my psychotic break in 2013 was because I didn’t have the money to get Seroquel (bipolar disorder medication she was prescribed). I didn’t have the health insurance, I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have a job because I was barely hanging on to life.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, she was able to finally receive consistent medication that helped her turn the corner in late 2014. According to her clinicians, this change helped her stay with her therapy and now she is well on her way to a stable and productive life.

Today, Donna is a Peer Support Specialist at the agency, supporting people who are going through challenges just like her. “When a mental health facility invests in someone’s recovery, they’re going to be more productive in society and also be able to help others,” beams Donna. “I feel like I’m giving back now, and I feel really privileged that through my anguish I am able to circumnavigate the system (and use this knowledge)…to benefit my clients.”