There’s no better gift than that of life, and to be given a second chance is an opportunity for which one Jacob Ramsey is absolutely thankful. After losing his wife, home and “mind” 10 years ago, today Ramsey not only gives praise to God but also thanks to an organization known as Step Up On Second for helping him rebuild his life.
Jacob Ramsey is an African American male in his forties who, in 1997, suffered a mental breakdown after going through a divorce he did not want, losing his home and his social standing in a Las Vegas community—everything for which he had worked his entire life. He made his way to Los Angeles and found himself living in a homeless shelter where a counselor diagnosed him as suffering from extreme bipolar disorder.
“For about a year-and-a-half I walked around just crying,” Ramsey recalled. “I didn’t know at that time what I know now—that was clinical depression. I just could not stop crying.”
Ten years later, with the help of Step Up On Second, Ramsey has been able to slowly rebuild his life and can now lightly joke that he has a double M.D. “That’s not two medical degrees,” he said, “but manic depression and muscular dystrophy.”
His sense of humor is greatly intact as he begins to tell his story, which has been a long road he’s had to endure to even get to the point of sharing, especially being from the African American community. But today, this one-time mega church preacher is ready to open up in hopes of helping other with mental illness—his new congregation.
“It’s quite a taboo subject,” explained Ramsey. “There’s a lot of stigma that comes with mental illness, and the Black community just has not really openly talked about it.”
“Even in this facility (Step Up On Second),” he added, “there were only two other African Americans when I first came here, and now there are about eight.
“I want to go public now because I want to help a lot of other African Americans or any group of people who have stereotypes about people with mental health issues.”
Ramsey feels that if more people like himself come forward with their success stories, it will open up doors for other to talk about mental illness. So talk is what he does during group sessions as Step Up On Second, a
psycho-social rehabilitation center in Santa Monica where healthcare professionals and volunteers assist adults with mental illness to regain the skills and secure the resources they need to live successfully on their own and reintegrate into the community.
Six days a week, Ramsey teaches sessions with an average of 15 people per group with titles that include: Words of Encouragement; Understanding Your Thoughts, which is a session specifically for those diagnosed with schizophrenia; Chicken Soup for the Self, which is specifically for residents of Step Up On Second’s housing facility; How to Tell Your Story; Poetry Workshop: and Positive Thinking. He also sits on Step Up’s board of directors and lives independently at the organization’s housing facility.
“Living with mental illness for 10 years, going through all these ups and downs, members of the groups can look at me and see that I’m a documented person that has successfully reintegrated into the community,” he said.
“It takes someone like me who consistently over the years sets the example, and you can see there is somebody who has a mental illness and has made it. I want people to know that, yes, prayer changes things, but God also puts doctors and psychiatrists and therapists and social-rehabilitation programs here on earth. God uses those people,” he added. “I know if people with mental illness just take that one step and reach out for some help, there are a lot of facilities and programs like Step Up On Second that will help. Today, it’s a new day. “
Ramsey, who continues to take medication and see a therapist, does admit that every day is a struggle when suffering from mental illness, yet every day is another day to live and be walking proof to others that there is still life with mental illness.
“Step Up On Second is a place where the hurting can come and get help,” he continued. “It’s a place where someone who had a ‘break’ can come and get a sense of dignity, respect and community.
“I want people with mental illness to know that there are people who care about them, and that I who suffered a break 10 years ago and now leads six groups and sits on the board of directors, I’m their biggest advocate.
“This place gives you a chance...if you have a mental health issue and you came to this type of program you too can do as much service and reintegrating back into the community. We’ll help you here, and I’m that proof. I’m that person who has been here for 10 years that’s living his dream.”
For further information about Step Up On Second and help with mental illness, visit www.stepuponsecond.org or call (310) 394-6889