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San Diego Group Encourages Young Adults With Mental Illness To Have Fun

A group in San Diego has a mission to encourage young adults with mental health issues to build relationships and have fun.

The National Institute of Mental Health says about one in five young adults has a diagnosable mental illness.

It’s not uncommon for young people with mental health issues to withdraw from others, and to isolate themselves. That can make their situation worse.

A group in San Diego has made it their mission to encourage young adults with mental illness to get out of their shell, make friends, and have a good time.

The group is operated by young people.

On a recent Sunday afternoon at the downtown branch of the San Diego library, the group called Impact Young Adults celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Photo credit: Kenny Goldberg

Impact Young Adults co-founded Ellen Frudakis at the group's 10th anniversary party on November 2, 2014.

Co-founders Ellen Frudakis and Johanna Baker stood at a podium in front of a roomful of people.

“Impact Young Adults, 10 years in the making," Frudakis told the audience. "Today, San Diego. Tomorrow, world domination!”

The crowd laughed and applauded.

The Genesis

Ten years ago, Frudakis and Baker were both struggling with mental illnesses. Frudakis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 20.

She spent a lot of time grappling with it behind closed doors.

“But I really needed to be able to connect with other people like myself, to remind me that I was bigger and more than the diagnosis,” Frudakis recalled.

Baker was knocked down by major depression. She lost her career as a music teacher and her social circle.

“So I needed people in my life, where I would feel accepted and feel like I belonged," Baker said.

Baker and Frudakis felt that life had to be more than visits to the psychiatrist and sitting at home alone. They wanted to have fun with people their own age.

Beginning in 2005, they formed their own social group and organized weekly social events such as rock climbing, ice skating and going out to the movies.

In its 10 years of operation, Impact Young Adults has hosted more than 500 get-togethers and community events.

Photo credit: Kenny Goldberg

Impact Young Adults co-founder Ellen Frudakis and an unidentified group member at a party in 2005.

There are other social programs run by mental health agencies, but Impact is the only one in California run by young adults.

Impact currently has 60 members in San Diego. Members must be between 18 and 35, have a mental illness and be involved in some form of treatment or other effort to improve their health.

Impact Has Big Impact

When he was in college back East in 2009, Mike Robertson’s life was derailed by schizophrenia. He started treatment in San Diego, and heard about Impact.

“It’s really difficult to find people like me, when not in the hospital, you know," Robertson said. "And then finding Impact was just great, I really fit in with everybody.”

Robertson has to take some pretty heavy medication to control his condition. It helps him lead a normal life. He considers Impact to be just as important.

Photo credit: Kenny Goldberg

Mike Robertson at the Impact Young Adults 10th anniversary party on November 2, 2014.

“I love sharing my passions with other people," Robertson said. "I love getting to share fishing, surfing with people, and it just makes me feel good.”

Feeling Good

Baker says helping members feel good is one of Impact's goals.

She doesn’t deny that mental illness can be debilitating and tough to manage, but Baker contends it doesn’t have to be someone’s defining characteristic.

“It’s just a piece of who you are," she explained. "It’s not meant to be this limitation that prevents you from doing all the things you might ever have wanted to do.”

Ellen Frudakis is proud of what Impact has done in its first 10 years. She’d like to see groups like it spring up in other parts of the country.

Frudakis said, when you have a mental illness, one thing’s for sure: being isolated is the worst thing of all.

“When you stay isolated, you don’t find resources, you don’t find a way out," Frudakis said. "And so, I would love for more young people across the country to be able to find what we’ve found, and have the joy and the experience with their peers that we’ve been able to have.”

According to the U. S. Census, there are more than 63 million Americans aged 18 to 34. Based on National Institute of Mental Health estimates, that means more than 12 million young adults in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental illness. The numbers alone show there is definitely a need for more programs like Impact.

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