Sharon Turks' story is one of struggle and perseverance.
Turks grew up in Memphis' Orange Mound community. She attended Melrose High School but did not graduate. Despite her young age, she was addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Turks' addiction started with the death of her baby brother on August 9,1980.
“I didn’t believe he was dead. It was hard for me to accept his death," she said.
Eleven years later, her mother's brush with death was Turks' turning point towards sobriety. In 1991, Turks' mother fell ill. After brief resistance from her family and with approval from her mother’s doctor, Turks saw her mother for what she thought would be the last time.
“If you get off this table, I will go get help,” Turks said, recalling her pledge to her mother.
Her mother’s health began to improve the same day.
Turks held true to her word, and on August 1, 1991, she checked herself into Memphis Mental Health Institute to begin a 28-day rehabilitation program. Today, Turks has been drug and alcohol free for nearly 30 years. She said she owes her continued sobriety to Alliance Healthcare Services.
“I know whenever I run into a problem, all I have to do is call Alliance Healthcare Services and they are going to point me in the right direction," she said.
In 2012, Turks was struggling and found herself in need of “some doctoring and counseling." She began working with AHS' Douglass Avenue location in Orange Mound.
The nonprofit AHS has been around for 38 years and has six locations in Shelby County.
Its mission is to promote wellness in the communities they serve. AHS offers a host of services from alcohol and drug therapy, individual and group therapy, family and crisis services, medically monitored chemical detox, and more.
AHS accepts both insured and uninsured clients.
Since 2012, AHS has helped Turks stay true to her sober path with support beyond counseling.
After a failed relationship, Turks found herself homeless. AHS helped her get into a housing program. She's now enrolled at the Goodwill Excel Center to complete her high school diploma.
Once she graduates, AHS Douglass has offered Turks a job. She'll be able to tell her story and share her experience and expertise as an anger management and substance abuse peer specialist with their new Extensive Outpatient Program Day Program launching later this year.
Turks said she owes her new outlook on life to her own AHS anger management counselor, Faye Stewart, who helped Turks build skills to manage stressors and uncomfortable emotions.
“When I came here I had an attitude," said Turks.
In May, AHS will host their first community health fair at Mississippi Boulevard Church for Mental Health Awareness. The two-day event begins May 29 with a conference reserved for healthcare professionals.
May 30 is the Family Focus 2020 Wellness Fair Community Day. It's free, open to all, and will feature vendors, food, games, and mental health success stories. For tickets to the May 29 professional conference click here.
To register for the free May 30 wellness fair click here
Sharon Turks has 30 years of sobriety and credits Alliance Healthcare Services with her continued success. She's been a client and will soon join the organization's staff as a peer specialist. (Alliance Healthcare Services)
FUNDING GAPS AND NEXT STEPS
Laurie Powell is CEO of Alliance Healthcare Services and has a close connection with AHS Douglass. She started there as a clinician in 1993 and is very familiar with the need for mental health and substance abuse treatment in Orange Mound.
While AHS offers its range of services to both insured and uninsured clients, it has only four beds for uninsured clients seeking an in-patient controlled medical detox from drugs or alcohol. With a waiting list of about 60 uninsured people, there's a big need for more funding.
"We are funded at 24 cents per member per month for our Mobile Crisis [Unit]," said Powell. "One of the centers in Nashville is funded at 44 cents per member per month, even though they don't see half as many members."
Laurie Powell, CEO of Alliance Healthcare Services. (Alliance Healthcare Services)
AHS' Mobile Crisis Unit is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and offers different levels of care based on need. Once assessed, people will be matched with a counselor at the AHS location in or nearest their community.
Powell wants uninsured and insured clients to receive the same quality of care regardless of their ability to pay.
“Mental health should be funded at the same rate as regular healthcare," she said.
AHS offers Medically Assisted Treatment at their Peabody location to move clients safely from addiction to recovery. They plan to roll the program out at AHS Douglass in the future.
More funding for mental health would give AHS the opportunity to help more people like Turks.
AHS Douglass will also be launching its Extensive Outpatient Program Day Program later this year to support people in recovery. Powell hopes to begin offering more services at the Orange Mound location if the organization is able to obtain more funding.
Powell hopes to raise mental health awareness alongside the money need to support the mission she is so passionate about.
“We want people to be well and take care of themselves and to save lives," she said.
How Poverty and Race shape Mental Health
All six AHS locations are strategically placed in low-income areas where the need for addiction and mental health services is great but the options for treatment are few.
AHS Douglass is located in the heart of Orange Mound at the corner of Douglass and Bey Street. The poverty rate in Orange Mound's 38114 ZIP code is ranked sixth out of Memphis' 34 ZIP codes according to the 2019 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet
Why is poverty such an important factor in rates of addiction and mental illness?
stress and feelings of hopelessness. It decreases self-esteem, social supports, and access to healthcare and insurance coverage. Lack of insurance and cost are the most common
reasons people forgo mental healthcare. People who grow up in poverty are more like to have poor job prospects, less education, higher rates of childhood trauma, and family and housing instability.
All of these factors increase the likelihood of mental illness.
Severe mental illness is most common
among those with a household income of less than $20,000 per year and least common among households making $75,000 or more.
Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are a leading cause of substance abuse. While addiction is highly individualized, many low-income people who can't access professional help self-medicate with addictive substances.
Beyond income, there are additional race-based barriers.
Black people in the U.S. do not
have higher rates of mental illness or substance abuse than their white counterparts, but they're also less likely to report
and more likely to suffer from chronic, debilitating depression impacting daily functioning. With more barriers to accessing care, only one in three
African Americans who need mental healthcare get it.
When they do access care, it's often culturally incompetent and inadequate. Stigmas and belief that mental healthcare doesn't work are also factors
in lower rates of care.
Nearly 95% of Orange Mound households are black or African American.
AHS Douglass opened in Orange Mound on August 1, 1987. It was one of AHS' first centers.
Originally called the Southeast Mental Health Center, that organization merged with Frayser Family Counseling in 1990 to become Alliance Healthcare Services.
Author Ashley Mayfield is a High Ground News Community Correspondent. Correspondents complete a six-week training and mentorship program to become neighborhood-based reporters. Correspondents live in underserved communities and hope to correct negative neighborhood narratives by diving into the nuances underlying big challenges and solutions. This is Mayfield's first published story with High Ground News.