LINCOLN, Neb. - January is Mental Health Awareness Month, but one Nebraska woman is making sure every day she is advocating for others who struggle like her.
"I want people to know mental illness is a brain disorder and not a character flaw," said Tammy Fiala.
Fiala was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2004, after years of not understanding why she was the way she was.
"This was a time in my life, probably a year or year and a half where I would get better, relapse, get better, then relapse," Fiala said. "And I think people with mental health issues have blinders to it. They don't realize what they're doing and that's part of the problem and why I struggled."
Fiala said when she was diagnosed, all she hoped for was someone who had been through what she had to talk to. So, she set out to be that person for others.
"I drew from a lot of frustration and anger because I had to navigate through the system in order to get treatment and help," Fiala said. "When I was at my lowest point I really needed to know there was someone out there who has gone through this before me and made it out on the other side."
Fiala now works at Region 3 Behavioral Health Services in Kearney, serving people in 22 counties on their own mental health journeys.
In a time when 1 in 5 Nebraskans suffers from a mental health disorder, the Department of Health and Human Services says people like Tammy are helping to break the stigma.
"I think it rejuvenates our recovery system," said Susan Adams of the DHHS Behavioral Health Division. "People who have that lived experience really tend to be able to bring that vigor and enthusiasm toward giving hope to people that we serve in our system."
Fiala said now that she is helping others, she too has been helped.
"I'm not cured, but I can be in a place of recovery," Fiala said. "And I want to just say to people there's hope out there."
DHHS says if you feel like you are struggling, please do not suffer in silence. Reach out to people and get the support you need.