Email to a friend    Printer Friendly Page

Donate Now

Our Stories

Karen's Story  •  •  • 

Karen-Evans-and-JeanneMemorial.jpgAt the tender age of 17, Karen Evans began hearing voices. The voice commanded her to cover her body with lighter fluid and put a match to it. The scars that cover her body from that incident are minor compared to the scars she carries inside. Her story bears testament to her strength and determination as an individual living with mental illness.

Though she doesn’t agree with the use of labeling, Karen was labeled with schizophrenia. She believes that some of her mental health issues may be inherited but has no doubt that her environment is equally responsible. By the time she graduated from high school, she had attended 27 different schools. Her father was in the army, and often gone for long periods of time. Her mother, sick with depression over a younger child she had felt forced to put up for adoption, could no longer care for Karen or her twin sister. There was never any bonding, and often, there was desertion and abandonment. Karen spent her youth shuffling between relatives’ homes, foster homes and orphanages. The abuse, physical, sexual, and mental, that each new placement brought, never ended. In her late teens, when the voices began, she was placed in a number of state mental institutions.

"The horrors that then accompanied placement in state mental institutions were real. Patients were beaten, molested, and never told what had happened to the people who often just disappeared overnight. I was terrified of these places, and took to escaping whenever I had a chance."

Karen has become a passionate and well-respected advocate for those who struggle with poverty, homelessness, and/or mental health issues. Her personal experience with all of these has compelled her to speak out so others won’t go through what she did.  For more than 25 years, Karen has worked tirelessly to develop or improve services for those in need.  Her voice has had a powerful and lasting effect.

Karen was instrumental in founding the Wayside Soup Kitchen in Portland, Maine. In 1987, she brought the growing issue of homelessness to the attention of public officials by creating a “tent city” outside City Hall. She has gone to jail to call attention to social justice issues, created a bus pass program for those who could not afford transportation costs, and helped start the “Warm Line” – a phone service staffed by peers that gives individuals a place to call when they want to connect but are not in crisis.

Last year a personal quest of Karen's culminated in a memorial to the deceased patients of the former Augusta Mental Health Institute (AMHI). "I was a patient there and found a good friend dead in her room." Karen quietly explained. "We never knew where her body went and it always bothered me. I wondered how many other people had been tossed away like that." In 2000 she was instrumental in forming the Cemetery Project Committee to find out how many patients had died at the facility. "We wanted to create a memorial to recognize these people."

Today, Karen's focus remains on integration, support and recovery for those with mental illness. She believes that creating opportunities to participate in community affairs is one of the easiest ways to reduce stigma.  

Pat's Story  •  •  • 

We adopted our daughter at age ten. Right away we saw that she struggled with making friends and with interacting appropriately with others. Several psychological tests resulted in numerous diagnosis including Aspergers Syndrome, Bi-polar disorder, emotional disturbance, PTSD, ADHD, etc. We experienced years of medication experimentation with little to no success.

As she grew into a teenager there were times that she would get so emotionally distraught that we would need to put her in the car and drive. The motion seemed to be the only thing to calm her down. There were multiple visits to emergency rooms, sometimes waiting days for a bed in a psych facility. At one point she was aggressive to the point the police were called, she threatened to kill herself then waited several days in an emergency department for a bed. When she crossed the threshold to the inpatient unit, she turned back to me and whispered, “Don’t worry mama, I am not going to kill myself, I just need help.”

This has been an experience that has challenged us and at the same time taught us more about tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness than one could imagine. The most difficult thing through all of it is trying to determine what behaviors she cannot help due to her disabilities and what behaviors are just bad choices on her part.

Throughout the years we learned it is important to give yourself a break. No parent has the right answer all the time and seriously, as human beings we are going to make mistakes. Just do the very best that you can do and be content that you are making a difference. One of our daughter’s therapists taught us years ago that you cannot help others if you are not mentally healthy yourself.

Take a weekend trip, a long walk on the beach or even a bubble bath but do what you need to do to take care of your own emotional well-being.


Pat Purcell (left)
Advisory Committee Member


Christina's Story  •  •  • 

My name is Christina Solak-Goodwin and I suffer from bipolar disorder. I was first diagnosed with this mental illness when I was twenty-six years old. I am now approaching my fiftieth year.

My illness caused me to become very suicidal and hopeless. I have attempted to take my life a dozen times because I could not accept my illness. My suicide attempts resulted in admissions to psychiatric hospitals.

I’ve been in recovery for almost nine years. When people ask me how I got better, I tell them it’s a process. I have had to accept my life living with mental illness, a disease that is treatable but not curable. I have to strive for a balance in my life such as taking medication, receiving good medical care, working the right amount hours, exercise and the belief that I can live a life with mental illness.

I’m a mother of three children and I have been married for twenty-six years. I’ve been a college professor, a psychotherapist, author of two books and now I work as a nurse in Admissions at Spring Harbor Hospital. I also volunteer some of my time to two boards including the Behavioral Services Advisory Committee for Maine Behavioral Healthcare.

People with mental illness need to believe that they can recover with supports and live a life they choose. It’s an everyday battle to accept limitations that our illnesses require, but we can find a path to wellness and hope. We can educate others and have meaningful impact upon our communities.

Fighting stigma has been my cause because it was stigma that kept me sick and ashamed of having a mental illness. I am no longer ashamed. I wear my disease as a badge of courage. You can too!


Christina Solak-Goodwin
Advisory Committee Member


Creighton's Story  •  •  • 

My son’s illness came like a bolt out of the blue, especially since neither side of the family had any history of schizophrenia. In the early years of his illness I grappled with getting him the help he so obviously needed but was largely unsuccessful because he was over 18, which made it virtually impossible to advocate for his care. It was awful to feel so helpless, watching as my son’s life unraveled before my eyes.

I was heartbroken. I thought his life, and mine, were over. I sought help to cope. I went to a NAMI support group, took the NAMI Family-to-Family class, became a volunteer and mental illness awareness advocate, and worked to get families the support and training they need to care for someone who is mentally ill.

After 11 years of dealing with my son’s illness I’ve become more detached. I am still heartbroken. How could I not be? But I think of his illness as “my painful gift.” I know I am a more compassionate person because of it. I’ve met people I otherwise never would have, made dear friends, and have gotten satisfaction out of helping others.

The stigma around mental illness persists. It is a powerful deterrent, stopping us from sharing our stories because we’re afraid our loved ones will bear the brunt of it. But if we are going to raise awareness, and create meaningful change so our loved ones are treated with the same respect and compassion as anyone facing a significant health crisis, I am willing to speak out. My message for anyone struggling with the mental illness of a loved one is to reach out, get help, educate yourself, and to do your best to embrace life as it is now. Otherwise, the illness wins.


Creighton Taylor
Advisory Committee Chair


Looking for services at Maine Behavioral Healthcare?
Call 1-844-292-0111

Intake Line: (207) 761-6644 | Toll-Free: 1-844-292-0111 | Administrative Office: (207) 842-7700