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Nikyra McCann Is "Still Standing" With Bipolar

A NAMI board member shines a light on mental health of underserved persons.

Today I had the pleasure of having a follow-up conversation with Nikyra McCann, dedicated mental health advocate on the Board of Directors of NAMI Dane County [Wisconsin], and an enterprising woman. We talked about her advocacy work through Still Standing Enterprise, art and music therapy, alternatives for law enforcement for approaching people in mental health crisis, and the award she’s receiving from NAMI at their annual conference.

ML: Hello, Nikyra [Ni-KYE-rah], and welcome. We had our first conversation last year and you’ve taken Still Standing Enterprise to a whole other level.1 Tell me about the mission for Still Standing.

NM: The mission for Still Standing is to inspire and uplift those who are down and those who are in need of encouragement through mental health — to be the backbone to help others.

ML: Do you serve a specific age group?

NM: No, [but] I’m starting to deal with teenagers aged 13 and up. I’ve mainly been speaking through NAMI,2 speaking with and training police officers,3 ... and things like that. We have some contracts I’m working on to go more into the mental health field.

ML: The police aspect is interesting, because we have this whole history with the Black community being unfairly targeted, unfairly and unjustly mass incarcerated, and with people struggling with mental illness having no real first responders other than police to address a crisis. I’m really interested in what your inroads are with police in your area.

NM: Nearly four years ago, I was dragged out of the church by a police officer. I was literally dragged out of the church to outside to the police car, and chained to a hospital bed. There was a lot of injustice with that situation, so that’s why I want to work with NAMI to work on the panels and share my story with police officers. Now I’m in their face telling my story and telling them ways that they can better help people under mental health circumstances.

ML: I love that. I was escorted by the police to the hospital — thank God they took me to the hospital — but I can’t imagine being dragged out of anywhere — place of worship, home, or anywhere in public — because that’s just added trauma. It’s not de-escalating the situation or recognizing the person as a patient versus a prisoner. That’s really strong stuff.

NM: Yep, absolutely.

ML: Now I did see somewhere online that Still Standing is presenting workshops and seminars. Do they focus on bipolar, or is it general mental illness, or do you have different seminars for different things?

NM: We have different seminars for different things. So, I am working on a big contract that I can’t really speak on, but it’s to offer workshops and seminars to uplift. With whatever organization it is, the seminar will meet their needs for their people.

Art and Music Therapy for Mental Health

ML: Tell me about the art and music therapy.

NM: I’ve learned that, over the years, when I’m down or having a low, I go to music. I make a song or poetry or just do something creative. In 2013, I did a short film about my life called “Don’t Judge Me.” It was aired at a local theater and sold out. All proceeds benefited my mother’s mental health organization. I thought it could really help others with mental illness, therapy through art and music, because it helped me. It helped me to get by. It soothed me and gave me comfort. I know it can work for others.

ML: I believe that. The arts just talk to our spirits and they can be very healing, very cathartic. So with the art and music therapy that you’ve offered so far, what effect do you see in the participants from the time they come in — they’re feeling a certain way — and then they go through the process. What’s some of the feedback you’ve gotten?

NM: This is actually the beginning stages of offering the workshops and seminars. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. Years ago, I had an art studio and I was going to offer this, but the studio closed down, so now I have another office downtown Madison. I want to start offering different things there, but what I’m mainly working on now are the workshops and seminars. That’s the front of everything right now. Still Standing Enterprises is enterprise. There are so many levels to it and things I have going on.

ML: You’re really pulling people together.

NM: It’s like when life breaks you, you can let it break you in a good way to motivate you and put you back together so you can help others. That’s just what I’ve learned.

ML: I agree. You either wind up breaking down or breaking through. What’s next with NAMI in Dane County?

Recognition From NAMI

NM: I’ll be receiving an award in November at the NAMI annual conference. I’m getting the Build It Together award for contributions of bringing awareness to mental health in underserved communities. I’m still on the board of directors.

ML: Tell me about the underserved communities. Who is underserved, and who are you reaching out to?

NM: African-Americans. That’s what I’ve seen and experienced. I’m speaking from my personal life and people around me going through similar issues.

ML: In what ways are they underserved? Is it medication? Therapy? Basic needs?

The Underserved Get Served

NM: I believe it’s all around in all sorts of circumstances. It can be medication or having a mental health breakdown and getting charged criminally. You go to jail. Like me, I was having a mental illness crisis and was charged criminally. I went to jail. I was facing felonies. My charges had to be dropped, and I had to go through a first-offenders program. I had to go through all that trauma after a mental health episode. It was not a good situation to be in.

ML: Is there enough financial support and guidance coming from legal or community authorities to help fill in those gaps?

NM: The county executive Joe Parisi wants to create a $10-million triage center by 20234 to help fill in the gap for people dealing with mental health. Now it’s coming more into the light, and people are being adapted more to help in these circumstances; hopefully we’re pushing forward to help things get better.

ML: Good. We need that. ... I thank you so much for your time. I’m sure your story and efforts will help lots and lots of people.

NM: You’re welcome.

Our original interview can be read by clicking here.

References

1. I have bipolar disorder and I am a ‘beautiful mind,’ not a ‘mental illness.’ Good Morning America. https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/wellness/video/bipolar-disorder-beautiful-mind-mental-illness-74136623

2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://nami.org/Home

Rusk, G. Madison launches program to respond to mental health 911 calls (2021). NBC15, Madison. https://www.nbc15.com/2021/08/26/madison-launches-program-respond-mental-health-911-calls/

Hamer E. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi proposes $10 million for Crisis Triage Center (2021). Wisconsin State Journal. https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/govt-and-politics/dane-county-executive-joe-parisi-proposes-10-million-for-crisis-triage-center/article_1ee8ea2e-6b04-5c65-9a35-5ef192f0d76f.html

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