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Defying stereotypes

Friday, October 23, 2020

Lynn Jones is living proof that mental illness can happen to anyone. She was a happily married mother to four children with bachelors' degrees in military science and human resources management. When she wasn't shuttling her kids to sports practices or art lessons, she was working as the human resources director for the Oregon Military Department and as an officer with the Oregon National Guard.​

Her life was busy, structured, fulfilled. But when her marriage dissolved in 2007, her life spiraled into one of despair and isolation. She sought help for her depression at an acute-care psychiatric hospital, but when she returned to work, her boss didn't think she was “mentally fit" to lead the Human Resources Department.

Angry and defeated, Jones left her job. She insulated herself at home, attempted suicide, and survived. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type II and post-traumatic stress disorder. She heard voices that told her to kill herself, and she cycled in and out of hospitals for treatment.

“If I had received the care I needed at the forefront, all this other stuff wouldn't have happened," she said. “But in the midst of adverse experiences, you don't know what kind of gifts they bring – not until later."

At her lowest point, she broke into her ex-husband's house and destroyed property. She pled guilty except for insanity and participated in treatment at Oregon State Hospital from February 2010 to July 2014.

Finding her own voice

At Oregon State Hospital, Jones slowly rediscovered her strong, unstoppable self. She says there were select staff who gave her “threads of hope" that helped her heal ­— most notably staff from Peer Recovery Services.

She was inspired by the story of Gary Sjolander, a pioneer in the peer recovery movement, and she enjoyed her “tea and talk time" with a night nurse. 

After some time, Jones began sharing her mental health journey at OSH new employee orientations, and she  served on the boards for both the non-profit OSH Museum of Mental Health and Folk Time, a peer-run support group in Portland.

She worked as a consumer host for the Sjolander Empowerment Center, a place where patients attend support group meetings and enjoy the companionship of others. She also earned her state certification in peer support training and began advocating for herself and others.

“I know what it's like not to have hope in this place," she said. “I want people here to know that things can and do get better."

Jones is especially grateful for her friendships with peer recovery specialists at the hospital, including Malcolm Aquinas and Rick Snook. From them, she learned how to hone her diplomatic and self-advocacy skills.

“Malcolm and Rick were so instrumental in my seeing that you can overcome mental health challenges and you can reclaim your life," she said. “I view Rick and Malcolm as some of my angels on this earth."

The appreciation is mutual, with Aquinas and Snook describing Jones as an amazing and inspirational woman.

“She shows that people are miraculous," Snook said. “People can overcome whatever tries to bring them down."

Staying mindfully present

Jones was discharged in 2014, and she's currently living in a semi-independent-living apartment in Portland. Although her newfound freedom was uncomfortable, she said she refused to be ruled by her fears. 

“I decided to reclaim my life," Jones said. “I wanted to use my lived experience to help other people."

She is most proud of earning her masters' degree in social and behavioral studies at George Fox University. The work was hard, and there were many times she wanted to quit. But with grit, determination and support from her friends and family and the Cascadia Treatment Team, she graduated in May 2019.

“I'm actually glad I experienced everything I did during my mental health journey," she said. “It gives me better insight to be able to help others."

Sadly, not long after graduating, Jones' 25-year-old daughter died from natural causes. Still grappling with her loss, Jones said she's now focused on taking each day as it comes — a philosophy that has also helped her during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do several things to stay mentally well during this very trying time," she said. “One of the most powerful tools for me is staying mindfully present in the here and now, rather than worrying about the future. Sometimes doing this is easier said than done, but I try my hardest." 



Lynn Jones, a former patient at Oregon State Hospital, is especially grateful for her friendships she forged with peer recovery specialists during her stay, including Malcolm Aquinas (Left) and Rick Snook (Right). From them, she learned how to hone her diplomatic and self-advocacy skills.

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