Center In Downtown Columbus Helps Mentally Ill Find A Future

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They are seen, but not heard. The mentally ill often suffer in silence.

The PEER Center in downtown Columbus gives people living with mental illness a voice, and more importantly, a chance.

Richard Cummingham worked for a global parcel delivery service for nearly three decades.

He had a stable job and loving family when mental illness sent his life into a downward spiral.

"I didn't understand what it was at first. I knew that I wasn't getting any sleep, I wasn't - I didn't have energy to do my job," Cunningham said.

It took several trips to the hospital and a failed suicide attempt before doctors diagnosed Cunningham with severe depression.

But the diagnosis brought even more uncertainty.

"And upon discharging, them giving you paper information of your diagnosed illness, and then they say go and do the work," said Cunningham. "It was hard for me to do that, because upon exiting the doors, I didn't know where to start."

After nearly a year of seeking treatment on his own, Cunningham found himself at the PEER Center in downtown Columbus. That’s where a growing number of African-American men are finding help and hope.

Since the PEER Center opened in Columbus in January of 2007, participation numbers among African-American men have soared.

More than 70 percent of the people seeking treatment at the center are male, 55 percent are African-American.

"Mental illness does not discriminate. It is represented in all genders, socioeconomic classes - everywhere you look, mental illness is a possibility," said mental illness activist Gabe Howard. "We're all affected by it."

In response, group therapy and special programming now focuses on serving this under-served population.

"I was able to do here, coming to the PEER Center -- I was able to do recovery in three months, what I couldn't do in a year on my own," Cunningham said.

"I have a lot of hope today," he said.

The PEER Center is planning a weekend of special events in October.

MORE INFORMATION: The PEER Center