Derek Mecca isn’t afraid to ask for help.
“I’ve had struggles my whole life, but I’ve always been proactive to get myself the help I needed,” he said.
And when he needed help, he found it at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
Mecca has been receiving mental health services for most of his life. When he moved to Lawrence about six years ago, he started coming to Bert Nash.
“I’m not sure how I heard about Bert Nash, but I was going through some crisis in my life and I decided I need to focus on my mental health,” Mecca said.
He went through the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) program at Bert Nash. DBT focuses on four primary skills: emotion regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness. Mecca said the program was life-changing.
“When you are in a place where there are no answers and there’s no way to solve the puzzles of your life or to fix things, and you feel 100 percent powerless, it’s beyond defeating,” Mecca said. “But when I went through DBT, the information they taught there, it helped me to understand what is healthy and unhealthy in interactions with other people and with relationships, in general. It’s like this complex puzzle inside of my mind started to free up and create space. I would go so far as to say, DBT saved my life.”
Mecca’s mother had her own mental health challenges, and he rarely saw his father. So, growing up, he was moved from family member to family member.
“My mother had me living with different people and I never really formed that stable connection with a parental figure, that person you share love with,” he said. “I almost got put into the foster care system, until my grandmother stepped in and rescued me from that. She raised me.”
Mecca lived with his grandmother until he was 18. Then he moved in with his girlfriend. They were married for about 10 years and have two boys, 11 and 14.
His boys have had their own struggles and, like their dad, have also received services at Bert Nash.
“Whether it’s genetic or environmental or a combination, they have had their own struggles as well since starting school,” Mecca said.
If anything, Mecca’s own struggles have taught him to be an advocate not only for himself but for his sons.
“One of the things they teach in DBT is the importance of validation,” Mecca said. “DBT helped me become a better father and a better person. I’ve stood up and fought for my boys and their well-being. My drive in life is to do whatever is in their best interests, along with whatever I can do to create stability, because I never really had that.”
One of the services Mecca has utilized at Bert Nash is peer support. Peer support specialists use their own mental health recovery stories to help others on their own recovery journey.
“Peer support is contingent upon what a consumer wants to do for themselves,” said Bill Welch, peer support team leader. “We’re here to support their growth, change and progress, and to make sure they don’t lose track of that. In Derek’s case, there’s been a phenomenal shift in how he thinks about things. That’s been fun to see that happen.”
For Mecca, peer support has been critical to his recovery and his sense of belonging.
“I know I’m a client, but I feel like Bert Nash is family to me,” he said. In fact, since graduating from peer support, he is interested in becoming a peer support specialist himself.
“I’ve learned enough from peer support and other services I’ve received from Bert Nash, that I want to be able to give back,” Mecca said. “Ever since I was a teenager I’ve had this notion that no matter what I do in life that I want it to be something that benefits people. I want to help other people the way I’ve been helped.”