Activist’s friends vow to continue peer counseling
Plans are in the works to carry on some unfinished business left behind by mental health activist Don Sheard. Sheard was the driving force behind SPIRIT, a support group led by peer counselors with mental health challenges.
Diagnosed 10 years ago with severe depression and more recently with bipolar disorder, Sheard died last month at his home in Grass Valley at age 58.
At the time of his death, Sheard was working to establish a peer-led drop-in center where people with mental health issues could socialize and talk about their problems with counselors who understood the struggle.
Sheard envisioned a place where people could feel safe from the stigma surrounding mental illness. He said prejudice was the biggest barrier to people getting the help they need and bettering their lives.
The peer counselors are working to obtain nonprofit status for SPIRIT, said Michael Fuchs, who was named the group’s new chairman Monday.
Fuchs said the group will then look for a site in Grass Valley to house the drop-in center. “I’m confident that it won’t be much longer before we have an actual drop-in site,” he said.
The county is waiting for approval of a grant, a portion of which has been earmarked to fund a one-year lease for the center, said Doug Bond of the county Department of Behavioral Health Services.
“The peer-counseling program is very important to us, and the drop-in center is a dream that everyone involved has had for a long time,” Bond said.
Sheard was remembered by friends and family for the good he did at a memorial Saturday at the county fairgrounds.
Sheard was always so full of life that he’d cheer up everyone just by his presence, said his second cousin Michael Martin of Tulare.
“Even when he was depressed, he reached out to other people. That’s just who he was,” Martin said. “He overcame anything that life threw at him. It was always inspiring to me to think ‘What excuses do I have not to achieve things in life?’ when I saw what Don overcame.”
“I celebrate that my brother has gone out in such as blaze of glory,” said Sheard’s friend Ed Barr.
It’s important to the entire community to carry on Sheard’s legacy and support SPIRIT, Fuchs said.
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