Kellee O’Brien: Giving Mental Illness a Voice

Volunteer, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Colorado Springs

At 18, Kellee O’Brien was living in her car and self-medicating an illness that had yet to be identified. Eventually, she was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and a therapist, O’Brien found freedom, wholeness and a home.

Today, O’Brien works with the Colorado Springs affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). There she and fellow volunteer Jodi Kollruss launched the support group for women Homeless Not Hopeless at Springs Rescue Mission.

“A large percentage of homeless have mental illness,” O’Brien says. “I wanted these women to have a voice. [When] I was diagnosed, I put myself into isolation … because I was afraid.”

O’Brien provides strategies for living with mental illness, while fostering an open, safe environment. “My most satisfying moment within the last year is getting the support group off the ground,” she says.

“NAMI’s programs helped [Kellee] better understand and manage her [own] illness, but she has given more to the organization than it could’ve possibly given her,” says Lori Jarvis-Steinwert, director of NAMI-Colorado Springs. “[We are] blessed to have Kellee. Our entire community benefits from her courage, wisdom and honesty.”

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