Page 4 - Heart of Hoag February 2016
P. 4

She Transformed the Despair of Mental Illness into a Message of Hope for Others
After compassionate care at Hoag, Kristen Pankratz discovered her life’s purpose: to help others suffering from serious mental disorders
Kristen Pankratz was 18 the  rst time she was hospitalized to receive help for bipolar disorder. Her parents took her to Hoag, where Pankratz said she was treated with dignity, respect and compassion.
During subsequent hospitalizations at other facilities over the course of her life, Pankratz discovered that not all hospitals are equal. It was clear that the  eld of mental health could use someone like her to treat patients with the kind of respect she experienced at Hoag.
Today, Pankratz has her master’s degree in social work from USC and is the program coordinator
for the National Alliance on Mental Illness -
Orange County (NAMI-OC), the leading self-help organization in the county for families and friends of those suffering from serious mental disorders.
She leads and coordinates classes for people with mental illness and their families, including classes in Spanish and continuing education courses for health care professionals. Many of these classes and programs will soon be held at Hoag’s new Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living.
“Because of my experiences, I decided to go into the mental health  eld. I wanted to give back and help other people,” Pankratz said. “I have a unique perspective and understanding of what patients are going through. I’ve experienced mania and been treated for depression, and that allows me to share my coping skills with others.”
That “lived experience” is one of the cornerstones of NAMI-OC, which hires and trains people who have  rst-hand experience with mental illness. And it is the foundation for all NAMI-OC education and support programs, many of which are funded in part by contributions from Hoag’s Department of Community Bene t.
“NAMI-OC is partnering with Hoag Hospital’s new Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living
and will collaborate with Hoag’s other community partners to provide mental health education, support and advocacy services in the upcoming months,” said Ken White, interim executive director of NAMI-OC. “Participants will be taught by peers who have experienced the journey of mental illness and will learn to understand the experience of trauma inherent in mental illness, to understand
each others’ experiences and to appreciate the bene ts and methods of collaborative care.”
For Pankratz, those lessons include a message of hope.
“I am proud that despite having a major mental illness, I was able to graduate with honors and live a productive, happy life,” said Pankratz, who
recently celebrated her 15th wedding anniversary. “I like to tell people that recovery is possible with correct treatment and support. To be able to offer that support and education at the Melinda Hoag Smith Center for Healthy Living – a site that is
so nice and that we can use for free – is especially a blessing.”
“I like to tell people that recovery is possible with correct treatment and support,” says Pankratz, who is living proof of the truth behind her words.

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