Mental illness affects thousands of Oklahomans and their families. Sometimes, a person with a mental illness goes into crisis, and they need people along the way to help them recover. These are some of their stories.

Compassion during crisis

It's easy to miss the "CIT" patches on Lt. Melissa Abernathy's shoulders. Many deputies with the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department wear the letters. It stands for "crisis intervention team" and denotes that those officers have been trained to better understand people with mental illnesses. The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department has a contract with the state mental health department to transport people from crisis centers to other treatment facilities. They regularly response to calls in the Oklahoma City metro of people who are in a crisis and are scared. Abernathy knows how scary this process can be for people. She has a close family member that she has seen struggle. "I know that we need to show compassion and try to be there for them and help them out and get them the help that they need," she said.

Read about one Oklahoman's struggle and treatment here.

'No life is worth wasting'

Throughout high school, Shaelynn Listen was an accomplished flutist. She was a dedicated musician who practiced often and won several awards. Behind that, she was battling bipolar disorder. Music was her escape. She wasn't yet diagnosed, and her mother Eileen Morefield was trying to determine -- is this normal teenage behavior, or is there something more here? Listen went to the University of Central Oklahoma with a full scholarship. By second semester, she had lost half of it. She had a child to raise, and beyond that, she was in a dark place emotionally. She wasn't making it to class, and she was around people who offered her drugs, which offered her an escape from nightmares and reality. Listen is now in recovery and recently won Miss Oklahoma United States All World Beauties 2012.

Read more about their story and Shaelynn's struggles here.

'There was hope'

Traci was a young mother with a daughter she wanted to find help for. Her doctor told her there was no hope for her daughter -- the doctor said her daughter had a mental illness and would probably live in a group home. After Cook's appointment, she went to the National Alliance on Mental Health Oklahoma. They told her, for one, they would find her a new doctor. Today, her daughter is 17 and talking about going to college. Cook is now the executive director of NAMI Oklahoma, the organization that gave her hope 12 years ago. Cook tries to do the same for other Oklahoma families. When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, their family members often feel lost and unsure of how to best help them. "That's what we find, is that people just don't know what to do. It's not that they don't want to do something. They don't know what that thing is. That's what NAMI does -- we teach them." NAMI is among a group of Oklahoma organizations that educate people with mental illnesses about how they can lead successful lives. "Unfortunately, I think we rely too much on the state system and not enough on our nonprofits. If we would do better referrals between ourselves as agencies, I think we would have a system that's more fluid and less fragmented."

Read more about one parent's fight to take care of their child.

Support systems


Brandy Clark knows she can count on her brother. And Boe Clark wants to be there when his sister needs him. Brandy Clark sometimes has a bad mental health day. Her brother is there to cheer her up, whether that's cooking dinner, going to the thrift shop or people watching at Walmart. At 30, she has accepted that she has bipolar disorder. She feels lucky to have her brother there to listen. “Some people with mental illness have no one,” she said.

Read more about Brandy's story and support systems here.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to a counselor at a crisis center near you.