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One man fighting to combat mental illness stereotypes

MEDICAL LAKE, Wash. - It's Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time where mental health communities actively combat stigmas and stereotypes.

At Eastern State Hospital, the community of patients and staff work together to overcome both the illnesses and the stigmas with hopes of creating acceptance in the communities they hope to return to.

Ray is a man at Eastern State Hospital who hopes to use his experience to help others navigate mental illness.

An accident 6 years ago took away life as Ray knew it. A speeding driver ran into his motorcycle, and kept going, leaving Ray to bear the consequences, which included a traumatic brain injury, and the loss of his left eye.

“What happened to me the accident and all that could happen to anybody,” said Ray.

Everything changed, and after more than 20 years of sobriety, he relapsed. Ray lost his wife and kids, and was diagnosed with clinical depression.

“I had never planned, that something like this would happen to me,” said Ray. “Other people, yes, but not me.”

Before his own diagnosis, Ray says he used to have a very negative concept of mental illness.

“One of them, they need to be over there, out of society you know they're crazy,” said Ray.

This line of thinking is one of several societal stigmas that the mental health community actively fights to break down.

“When we meet someone who has a medical disease or ailment, we don't call them that disease,” said Dr. David Elkins, Eastern State Hospital.

When Ray looks at characterizations or stereotypes of people who are mentally ill, he doesn't see himself or the people he has met at Eastern State.

“All the patients that I know here, and I've gotten close to some of them, have lives. They have lives they want to get back to,” said Ray. “I want to be accepted for who I am, not the label that society gives me.”

Ray is getting ready to be released, and when he is, he says he wants to be an advocate for others with mental illnesses to let them know they're not alone.

”Start looking at us as people, not hospitalized mental patients,” said Ray.