Celebrating Mental Health Month with Sarah Price Hancock. The only solution that worked was employment.
SP Hancock: I’m excited to be able to help bring vocational rehabilitation to the forefront. I think it’s something that’s underutilized and something that can change so many peoples lives.
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Speaker 3: VR Workforce Studio. Inspiration, education and affirmation at work. Welcome to another episode as we open up the VR Workforce Studio to champion the courageous stories of vocational rehabilitation from individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 4: Listen to our amazing stories about the disability employment journey.
Speaker 5: Hear us describe our pathway through the challenge.
Speaker 6: Feel the joy and share in our inspiration as we overcome disabilities and go to work.
Speaker 3: We’ll also meet the champions of business and industry who hire individuals with disabilities.
Speaker 7: I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that some of our best employees have disabilities.
Speaker 3: And hear from the VR professionals who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping individuals with disabilities go to work. Now here’s the host to the VR Workforce Studio Rick Sizemore along with- [crosstalk 00:01:07]
Speaker 8: Begin countdown.
Speaker 3: Executive director of the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center Foundation Anne Hudlow.
Speaker 8: Four, three, two, one.
Rick Sizemore: On today’s episode of the VR Workforce Studio we’re celebrating Mental Health Month. A university professor from San Diego State University that has an extraordinary vocational rehabilitation story. Sarah Price Hancock who you may know from WINTAC joins us just momentarily.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right Rick and later on today’s show we’ll talk with James Hall from Wilson Workforce about the new partnerships with Microsoft through our friends at disABLEDpersons, Inc. and learn how the Imagine Academy is helping individuals with disabilities get the skill gains and workforce credentials they need to be successful in business and information technology.
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Rick Sizemore: Well it’s time for our big inspiration showcase with Sarah Price Hancock. Here with her story about overcoming the challenges of her disability and finding the path to a successful career through vocational rehabilitation.
SP Hancock: Thank you so much Rick.
Anne Hudlow: Welcome Sarah.
SP Hancock: It’s nice to be with you both.
Anne Hudlow: Sarah Price Hancock, great to have you on the podcast with us. Can you tell us a little bit about the spark that ignited VR in your life?
SP Hancock: You know vocational rehabilitation has changed my life. And it’s only because I was able to receive services through the Department of Rehabilitation here in California that I’ve been able to achieve the successes that I have. Currently, I am an adjunct professor at San Diego State University in the Rehabilitation Master’s Program. I teach for the license professional clinical counseling track. It’s a new program that we have. And I teach in the psychiatric rehabilitation classes. I also worked as a research specialist at the Workforce Innovation Technical Assistance Center. We call ourselves WINTAC.
Anne Hudlow: So you’ve become a college professor and you have an important voice for WINTAC and on social media. But your journey has been filled with obstacles that you’ve had to overcome. Can you tell us about some of those challenges?
SP Hancock: Well I live … Lived with symptoms of what’s known as Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar type with Catatonia. And so basically that illness is a combination of both the diagnostic criteria of Schizophrenia and the diagnostic criteria of Bipolar. And I had Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder. I also live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had my first psychotic break when I was 23, back in the late 90’s, while I was in college.
I was able to complete college with academic accommodations and taking just one class each semester. But as you can imagine that took a very long time to complete my undergraduate degree. And then after I graduated, we didn’t recognize that one of the medications I was on was actually having difficulty metabolizing in my system and so I became toxic with ammonia. And when that occurred I became catatonic and I was catatonic for many months and unresponsive to medications.
So they decided to do electroconvulsive therapy on me. And I did ECT for 18 months and for the next 12 years, I … Although I was very treatment compliant I was very treatment resistant. So that means was I always took my medication, but my medication just didn’t work. So, because I was not responsive to medication I cycled through 37 different combinations of five classes of medications.
Rick Sizemore: Oh wow.
SP Hancock: It was just outrageous.
Rick Sizemore: You’ve got a lot … You’ve got a lot going on.
SP Hancock: Yeah it was … The psychosis was intense. I had voices telling me how and why to kill myself 24/7, unless I was asleep and then the medications just caused terrific nightmares. And so it was a quite a wild ride, I was in and out of the hospital I say every four to six weeks. My Dad says that’s being generous, because I was … Sometimes I would just come out of the hospital and then within 72 hours I would be back in.
Rick Sizemore: Oh man.
SP Hancock: And then I was institutionalized for a total of 13 months during those 12 years. And in 2007 because none of the medications had worked, we decided to try ECT again. And then I quit that against medical advice in 2009. And that was about the time that I realized since the medication wasn’t working for me and since the ECT wasn’t working for me I really needed to find something else. And I began looking into other lines of treatment and I found peer support. And through the peers I began learning some wellness tools. Which are essentially coping strategies and I began … I guess I could say learning the tricks of the trade.
And I learned a lot of how people cope with their illness and then I was able to just little by little make steps towards finding employment. Which was difficult because the ECT … I had more than a hundred shock treatments. And shock treatments essentially create a grand mal seizure and they … My doctor says that because of the extensive shock treatments it was like having repeated concussions and essentially a traumatic brain injury because of it so I actually lost the first 36 years of my life.
So when I was going for employment positions I had no experience to rely on because even though I had worked I couldn’t remember or articulate my job history or interviews when they’re asking you … “So tell us about an experience when you’ve resolved a concern.” Or something like that I’m like, “That’s a great question.”
Rick Sizemore: You’d love to know the answer to it, right?
SP Hancock: Yeah, exactly. So I’ve … I had heard about the Department of Rehabilitation that they could help people with disabilities and I’m like, “Well that’s me.” And so I had always been passionate about helping people with disabilities when I was at Brigham Young University I was really involved with the student disability program that we had there. And I had I also been an American Sign Language interpreter. So I was very familiar with the deaf community and they’re actually the ones that taught me about academic accommodations and about Department of Rehabilitation. So I found them because … I’ve discovered that a lot of people with mental illness, at least in the San Diego area, just simply aren’t aware of the Department of Rehabilitation or rehabilitation services in general.
And so I was very lucky to have so many deaf friends who pointed me in the right direction.
Rick Sizemore: As you got into vocational rehabilitation what kind of steps did you go through to leave behind this life that had been so challenging and move into employment and what sounds like a much better state for you?
SP Hancock: You know it was really fascinating and I think that in terms of people living with psychiatric symptoms, I think that employment is underutilized as a treatment plan. My doctor came to me in 2008 and he was, he was teary. He said that they had not yet invented the medication that would help me. And he would be with me when they did. And so at that point I was like, “Well if you can’t help me, you know, I gotta find something else.” And so that’s when I found the Peer Support Specialist and I found Peer-to-Peer classes through the National Alliance of Mental Illness and then I attended the Wellness Recovery Action Plan classes through Recovery Innovations International. And then I attended their peer employment training class, which essentially teaches people with mental illness how to support other people with mental illness.
And I actually learned more in those classes, regarding strategies and wellness than I had learned in all of my counseling for the decade previous. And in … Even I took a lot of those techniques and strategies and incorporated them into the program that we have at San Diego State because I actually learned more about treating my illness and coping with the illness in those classes than I had learned in anything previous.
It was exciting for me because when I very first … After taking those peer support classes and recognizing that there were people living with severe mental illness, who were working. I began to think, “Well maybe I could work.” Cause previously my medication schedule was such that I was sleeping 18 hours a day. And so the peer was like, “Well that just means instead of taking your nighttime medicine when you go to sleep, you need to take you nighttime medicine … Just set your alarm and always take it at 6:30 or 7:00. And that enabled me to get up on time to actually get a job. And so then I got my first job and it was very simple, I was just answering phones for a nationwide tax company and because of my extensive memory loss I had taken really, really copious notes during the training process. Then I typed them all up and I put them in a binder and I called it “Sarah’s Brain”. And I was so embarrassed that I had this binder.
Rick Sizemore: But what a wonderful strategy.
Anne Hudlow: It’s a great idea.
SP Hancock: And it was interesting because all of my coworkers would always ask to borrow “Sarah’s Brain” and they normalized it for me. My memory loss was so severe that I took copious notes and then all of my other coworkers were using my notes. And it really normalized my memory loss for me.
Rick Sizemore: So through all the various medical interventions in the end it was wellness training and getting into an employment situation that really paved the way forward?
SP Hancock: Truly, it truly was because I had just learned that no matter what I did things wouldn’t change. And suddenly when I was put into an employment situation I became a valued of society, I became a valued member of my work team. Within the first three weeks of working in this office, the district manager actually came to me and asked me to be her administrative assistant. And just from there … I mean I was making cold calls for this company and it was hilarious because I could not remember the number long enough to dial the phone. That’s how bad my memory loss was, but I had the script in front of me. And so every time I got the wrong number I would just give them the speil even though they weren’t the previous years’ customer.
And I had … My boss came out to me and was like, “Man is that date … Is that list really that outdated?” And I said, “Um no it’s not I’m just getting a lot of wrong numbers.” And she’s like, “Ordinarily, that would be a bad thing but you always sound so friendly on the phone.
Rick Sizemore: You seem to make it work.
SP Hancock: “Pitch, that it really doesn’t matter that you’re making all these wrong number calls.”
Anne Hudlow: That’s funny. You’re gonna find somebody out there.
Rick Sizemore: [crosstalk 00:13:09] You know … You talked about “Sarah’s Brain” and that accommodation of that notebook which is just fabulous. We found in vocational rehabilitation programming that often times an accommodation is just a good thing to do for anyone.
SP Hancock: You know I agree, I think it’s kind of like universal accessibility.
Rick Sizemore: Exactly.
SP Hancock: It’s something everyone can benefit from whether or not they have a diagnosis or a disability.
Rick Sizemore: Well take us from this incredible sort of transformation through work and moving up the line to become an assistant to the administrator and how you wound up being a university professor in Voc Rehab.
SP Hancock: Well from my success in that very first, very part time job. When I heard about the Department of Rehabilitation in California I made my appointment and I had the assessment and I told them about my history of advocacy for people with disabilities and I told them about my experience with the deaf community. And I had always been interested, actually in becoming a rehabilitation counselor. I had actually applied and been accepted into a program, just when I became catatonic. And so the rehabilitation counselor was like, “This is a good fit for you, now that your well, let’s get you into the program.” And so I took the GRE which I completely bombed, but gratefully the faculty over at San Diego State University’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program, they could see my potential. And they understood academic accommodations well enough and disability well enough that my limitations were not an issue.
And so they invited me to be a part of that program and I actually had students who would use me, like for example for the assistive technology class they did an entire assessment on me and thought of all the possible assistive technologies that could help my memory and that could help me move forward and then they would write up these really detailed reports as to what I could use and how I could use it. And then I would actually take that report to the Department of Rehabilitation and it was just … It was really an exciting and very empowering experience because I went from someone who was just struggling with learned helplessness, who had no voice, to someone who understood the strategies and coping tools and you know wellness tools and I built a network that previously didn’t have. And I began to feel empowered.
And then I was able to use my internship sites to help other people with psychiatric disabilities to find their voice and to find the Department of Rehabilitation and to begin their search for employment. I worked so hard in my studies that I was recognized by one of the professors, Dr. [Olney 00:16:16] and she invited me to be her research assistant. So I built this really strong connection with Dr. [Olney 00:16:24] and with a lot of the faculty members. And then after my graduation, because I had been so influential in some of the core curriculum and core competencies and the learning strategies and applying a peer perspective to the psychiatric rehabilitation classes after I graduated, Dr. Olney invited me to co-teach with her for the two psychiatric rehabilitation classes. And so I’ve done that since my graduation in 2013.
Rick Sizemore: Sarah I was able to meet you via Twitter and your work at WINTAC and every time we talk on the phone I hang up feeling so inspired and humbled by our conversations that I say, “Well, I wish I’d recorded that.” Because every time someone engages you they’re just in awe of everything that you’re doing.
Anne Hudlow: Yeah I mean I think that’s really … Just sums it up, “Being in awe.” I mean I … Sarah, I cannot believe the journey that you’ve had and the success that you’re now finding because of your very, very hard work. You know we talk about vocational rehabilitation changing lives and it’s obviously done that for you. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to achieve success through vocational rehabilitation?
SP Hancock: I think the things that were most difficult for me as someone with a brain injury was the follow through. And so setting alarms and making signs and remembering to do things was actually one of the most difficult things for me to do. And taking notes so that I could remember you know … My rehabilitation counselor would say, “Okay, if you’re interested in becoming a rehabilitation counselor you need to go and explore the different programs that are out there that teach that. You need to go and make an appointment with the professor and go and make an appointment with the department head so that you can interview.” And those were all things that were new to me. And because I had been in the system for so long and had so little success advocating for myself for various treatments or for various situations, I really had to break through that learned helplessness and find hope.
And I found that hope in surrounding myself with other people who were successful. They’d have to have a disability. If they had disability I would just learn whatever I could from them because even if we didn’t share the same kind of disability they often had coping strategies I hadn’t brainstormed, I hadn’t thought of. And something else that was really effective for me was something called a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. That was developed by Mary Ellen Copeland who is a Peer, who lives with Bipolar Disorder. Having a WRAP plan enabled me to understand what I was like when I was well. Which allowed me to make course corrections when I began to experiencing symptoms. The better I understood what I was like when I was well, the better I could recognize when I was starting to get unwell. You know prior to having that WRAP Plan I would think, “Oh my gosh these moods are coming out of nowhere. This psychosis is coming out of nowhere.” And I really couldn’t identify the triggers or you know what was causing these things to happen.
It really was an empowering program for me to recognize that I’m an agent of change, I don’t have to be a victim of my illness or a victim of my circumstances. I can change things and I can make things the way I hope they can become.
Anne Hudlow: How has your family felt through this whole process and how are they feeling today in your great success through Voc Rehab. And where you are here with WINTAC.
SP Hancock: I think one of the most important things for families as their loved ones find the gateway to recovery is to somehow begin to recognize those little steps of progress and recognize that it is important to continue to stretch those wings so that they are not clipped.
Anne Hudlow: Very well said.
Rick Sizemore: Could you tell us about your experience and your work at WINTAC and VR?
SP Hancock: At WINTAC I work as the … One of the research specialists. WINTAC … We have a partnership with each of the state rehabilitation agencies and we go through each of them and do comprehensive state-wide needs assessments and those kinds of things. While I’m not directly involved in the needs assessments. I have been involved in some of the analysis afterwards. WINTAC trains each of the state-wide agencies in how they can best apply strategies to implement the WIOA successfully. And so behind the scenes I am the person who has gathered the research for the peer reviewed journal articles for our website. I’ve developed … We will be having free continuing education units for CRCs that should be posted in the springtime so there will be multiple self-paced study courses where you can sign on, read the material, and take the quiz and get your continuing education credits for those quizzes. Just so we can help, better help, each of our stakeholders really apply and make the WIOA a successful experience for all of those stakeholders who are using VR services.
I developed something that might interest you and might interest your listeners, it’s called Daring to Dream. And it’s … Uses a lot of the strategies that I used to enable me to go back to work.
Anne Hudlow: Nice.
SP Hancock: Your elevator speck to answer when people ask them, “Tell me more about yourself.” And then I developed … I worked with the LDS employment resource services to find employment and they used what are called power statements, where you take a very specific trait and then you give it an example. Hopefully, a quantifiable example of that trait. And then what I did with my clients is I would have them prepare four to six of those and memorize them so that when they went into interviews they would be, just on point in giving examples and being able to answer questions.
But I developed that, so if we could put a link for that.
Rick Sizemore: Absolutely.
Anne Hudlow: Very cool.
SP Hancock: Yup.
Rick Sizemore: Wow. That is just so exciting. Sarah Price Hancock you are amazing, not only in your academic and your life accomplishments, but as a spokesperson who is providing a vision for health and moving forward through work and vocational rehabilitation it’s been such an honor to talk with you here in the VR Workforce Studio Podcast today.
Anne Hudlow: Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. We really cannot thank you enough for your time and we congratulate you on all of your hard work and efforts. And just stand in awe of your great accomplishments.
SP Hancock: Well I really appreciate your feedback and I honestly, I would not be where I am today without the VR services. Because without them I would have never been able to find a job and more than just an entry level receptionist job because I just did not have the skillset because I had so much severe amnesia. I’m very, very grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with by the VR program.
Rick Sizemore: Anne, I talked with Steve Wooderson at CSAVR about this interview and he said, “It’s just a great example of CSAVR’s Vision 2020 especially the principle that shines the light forward on how VR’s building careers and retaining talent in America’s workforce by investing expertise and resources to benefit our customers.”
Anne Hudlow: Rick it really is a great example of Vision 2020.
Rick Sizemore: In our VR briefing room-
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Rick Sizemore: Fortunate to have with us James Hall. James is the Director of the Career and Workforce Development division at the Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center.
James welcome to the podcast.
James Hall: Rick thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to today.
Rick Sizemore: Cool. Tell us about this new partnership with disABLEDpersons, Inc. and the Microsoft Imagine Academy.
James Hall: In the economy for the 21st century you have to have technology skills, you also have to have digital literacy skills. And with Microsoft it gives us just a strong credibility for branding, credentialing, to allow our students to not only thrive, but you know survive and also have a living wage.
Rick Sizemore: Tell us about the partnership with disABLEDpersons, Inc.
James Hall: Well we have a strong partnership with disABLEDpersons, Incorporated and they were able to allow our student access this curriculum. So we partnered with them to allow our students to earn two credentials. Microsoft Office Specialist and Microsoft Technology Associate within two of our classrooms, business and computers.
Rick Sizemore: Now what would you say in terms of the labor market in applying for a job with those WIOA recognize workforce credential.
James Hall: Strong.
Rick Sizemore: Strong. Very strong.
James Hall: Because they’re WIOA recognized credentials, they have the brand and name recognition of Microsoft.
Rick Sizemore: You’re not going to beat that.
James Hall: Yeah.
Rick Sizemore: Well Wilson Workforce leading the way in measurable skill gains and workforce credentials now in this new partnership with disABLEDperson, Inc and Microsoft. All the best to you and the team at Wilson.
James Hall: Thank you and thank you for having us.
Rick Sizemore: Well it’s time for our report from the National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials.
Anne Hudlow: That’s right Rick. Cherie Takemoto is on a special assignment, but sent us a great report with a lot of resources to help us during Mental Health Month.
Rick Sizemore: Cherie has highlighted a lot of resources from the NCRTM on mental health and mental illness, which you’ll find in the show notes vrworkforcestudio.com.
The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials is of course your go to resource for vocational rehabilitation, information, technical assistance and training.
Anne Hudlow: So Rick, what resources did Cherie develop for us today?
Rick Sizemore: Well Cherie wanted everyone to know that newsletter number 19 is out on motivational interviewing a literal treasure trove of training resources and of course you can sign up for the newsletter at ncrtm.ed.gov and just check out the newsletter section at the bottom of the page.
Anne Hudlow: That all sounds great. So what else?
Rick Sizemore: Well there’s an annotated bibliography on mental health and secondary transition from the National Technical Assistance Center. Cherie said be sure to check that out.
Anne Hudlow: And a link to the toolkit from the JDVR TAC.
Rick Sizemore: That’s right and two webinars that focus on the toolkit and assistive technology for people with mental health conditions to help audiences better understand mental health conditions and available assistive technologies to support employment.
Also a series of disability specific self study courses developed by Laurie Ford, University of Washington covering a lot of areas like Asperger Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, this list just goes on and Cherie said it’s great for self study or for a group study as well.
Anne Hudlow: There’s also a link for rehabilitation counselor training that covers many of the basics for rehabilitation counselors.
Rick Sizemore: And finally Coming Out Proud, a program manual. Cherie just loved Sarah’s interview and talked about how much courage it had to take for Sarah to even do a podcast and go into great details about her disability. And so Coming Out Proud eases the stigma of mental illness through a training program that’s designed to help those with mental health challenges learn about disclosing their experience to others in the community.
Again we look forward to having Cherie back with us next month and more exciting resources to support the VR community. You can find the links we’ve discussed and much more in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com.
All of our contact information as well as how you can get in touch with Sarah Price Hancock, James Hall, disABLEDpersons, Inc. and Cherie Takemoto at the National Clearinghouse are included in the show notes along with links to resources and other information discussed on today’s show. You can find all that along with a full transcript at vrworkforcestudio.com.
Anne Hudlow: Special thanks to all of our partners in podcasting for their help with today’s show. CVS Health, The Jesse Ball duPont Fund, The Virginia Manufacturers Association, Dominion Energy, and the Valley to Virginia Grant.
Rick Sizemore: Also, special thanks to our friends at the Global Impact Today radio network, especially Deb Ruh. And the Virginia Voice. Thanks for joining us for today’s show, it means the world to us that you spend some time getting involved in the disability employment and vocational rehabilitation conversation.
Well until next time I’m Rick Sizemore.
Anne Hudlow: And I’m Anne Hudlow.
Rick Sizemore: Let’s go and be the spark that ignites vocational rehabilitation.