EMHS Second Annual Members Meeting Speech

Empire Mental Health Support

Second Annual Meeting Speech

          Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, Peers and Family Members, Donors and Supporters, and Potential Members, Donors, or Supporters.  We are glad to have all of you here as you are helping us make history together in our second year as an organization.

          Let’s start with introducing those who are making a difference within the organization.  First, we’ll start with the board members before we continue with our Group Leaders.  So, here are the board members and Group Leaders:

  • I am Jerry Zeigler, the President of EMHS.
  • Angy Murphy is our Vice-President.
  • Phyllis Arends is our Treasurer.
  • Deb Piper is our Secretary.
  • John Baxter is a Board Member.
  • Sandy Holleman is a Board member.
  • Bob O’Connor is a Board Member.
  • Beverly Froslie-Johnson is a Board Member.
  • Mark Weber is a Board Member.

I am also a Group Leader, along with:

  • Angy Murphy for Peer Support
  • John Baxter for Peer Support
  • Ryan Sauby for Peer Support
  • Bob O’Connor for Peer Support
  • Susan Zeigler for Peer Support
  • Cyndi Morgan Baas for Peer Support
  • Roseann Olson for Peer Support
  • Phyllis Arends for Family Support
  • Sandy Holleman for Family Support
  • Beverly Froslie-Johnson for Family Support

Finally, we have a Speakers Bureau that consists of:

  • Sandy Holleman
  • John Baxter
  • Angy Murphy
  • Deb Piper
  • Beverly Froslie-Johnson

I congratulate each of them for their dedication, hard work, and compassion for helping to move Empire Mental Health Support forward over the past year.

     During last summer 2020, we worked hard with getting Zoom content out there for our Board of Directors and for our members.  We started with coffee via Zoom on Mondays and lunch via Zoom on Thursdays.  In October, our first Care Meeting for Peer Support was broadcast on Zoom for Tuesday evenings.

     Shortly thereafter, a Monday evening Care Meeting for Peer Support was also broadcast on Zoom.  Finally, a Care Meeting for Family Support Meeting began on Friday evenings via Zoom.  With the pandemic continuing, this was the best outlet to go.

     In May, we had our first face-to-face meeting at Sertoma Park on Tuesday evenings.  In August, the second meeting me face-to-face on Monday afternoons at First Presbyterian Church; in July, the Family Meeting taking place at First Congregational Church on Sunday evenings.  We were finally starting to make headway!

     In March, we continued with Coffee and Conversation as we had when we met under a different organization’s name.  In September, we are moving it back to the original time of 11:30AM on Mondays.  The Tuesday evening group will be moving time and location to 5:30PM at 8905 S. Hidden Pl.

     In April, we gave our first presentation about what EMHS to the officers of the CIT training.  There we talked about our desire to take care of the symptomatic person in crisis by getting them mental health care over having to spend time in jail.  With the new Mental Health Court, we hope this will be possible in most cases.

In May, we stood on the corner of 41st St. and Louise Ave. for Mental Health Awareness Month.  There, we held signs to let passersby know we are here and alive as those who live with mental illness whether in themselves or their family members!  Sandy Holleman read Mayor TenHaken’s declaration for this day.

     In July, Angy Murphy gave a speech for the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This act helps those with disabilities have easier access to all sorts of services.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to get my Disabled Veterans license plates without the ADA.  Just remember, some disabilities are not as obvious as others, but equal!

     At the end of July, we had both the 15 Questions Presentation training in Belle Fourche, which we’ll be calling Speakers Bureau in our organization: and our second Group Leaders training.  The goal of both these programs is for outreach.  The speakers can tell their story at schools, hospitals, boardrooms, etc.  The Group Leaders can expand on support meetings for peers and families.

     At the end of August and early this month, we had partnered with Lost&Found, another nonprofit that serves young adults 18-24 on campuses to prevent a rise in suicidal ideation, planning, and completion.  We are happy to share events with them.  We hope to be working with them—and others—in the future!

     We were able to show up at Riverfest and the Block Party to tell people what we do.  It was exciting!  It is our goal to attend as many events as we can in the next year.  Such events as Juneteenth, Pride Day, and the Sidewalk Arts Festival would help get our name out there!

One of our goals for the next year is to expand as much as we can.  It would be ideal to have meeting in the ten biggest towns in our state in the next two years.  It would be wonderful to expand into parts of the surrounding states within 10 years.  We feel this would be great for our organization, to prove how strong we are!

We will be working on getting some solid sponsors in the next year.  There are so many mental health clinics in this area.  Only time will tell.  We welcome anyone who has the same ideals we do in growing EMHS into a wonderful resource!

Yesterday, it was World Suicide Prevention Day.  September is National Suicide Prevention Month.  This is one of our focal points due to the rise of suicide deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.  People became unemployed due to either their businesses closing for a time or going out of business completely.

People of color, people of different genders, and children were hit hardest by the pandemic.  Asians were victims of aggression because of the origination of COVID-19.  Children had to go to school for the first time either masked up or online.  Parents, older children, family members, and friends were dying from the virus.  A wave of mass depression came over the country.

The social distancing meant we had to stay away from each other.  Other than social media, phone calls, or online meetings, there wasn’t that person-to-person contact in-person.  I can admit I became severely symptomatic during this time.  If I didn’t have an appointment, there was no reason to get up in the morning really!

There was a time this January when I had suicidal thoughts for the first time in 11 years because of an argument I had with my daughter where she tore me apart as a human being and triggered my trauma.  I wrote something on Facebook asking to borrow a gun.  A friend noticed it and told me that they turn comments like that to the local authorities.  So, I took it down and the thoughts passed.

But enough about me.  We would like to see suicide be extinct like some of the fatal viruses humans had to face throughout history!  One of the things we can all do is talk to our friends and family members about what’s bothering them.  An empathetic ear can be the solution in some cases.

Another solution is working towards expanding Medicare, achieving Universal Healthcare, and reforming mental health to the point where care and medication cost the patient little or nothing.  This is our primary goal, to have compassion and mental health support for everyone!

Every life is worth living.  You are worthy of the air we breathe.  You belong here.  Thank you for sharing another day with us!  If anyone tells you different, tell them you’re worth every penny spent!

We were supposed to have a speaker in the medical profession to speak to us; however, it didn’t pan out.  We will be having a Speakers Bureau 15 Question demonstration shortly.  Would you mind if you heard a little about my story?  I’d like to tell why I’m here!

I was in the Navy back in 1986 until 1988.  In 1987, I was sexually assaulted by a man who asked me to join him at a party in Chicago.  It was my last weekend in Illinois, so I figured why not.  Little did I know I was going to be the survivor of a male-on-male assault.

I went home for two weeks after that happened to see my family before traveling to Virginia.  During my first week in Norfolk, Virginia, I was molested by two other men.  One was in my sleep on a ship I was staying on until mine came into port; and another who said there was a party at Old Dominion University.

I was discharged at a year-and-half due to a suicide attempt, threatening to do it again if I were to stay in the Navy, and being hospitalized.  Although my trauma happened six months before, I couldn’t talk about what happened to me.  It was a different time in the 80s. I did turn in the guy who molested me in my sleep.  Whether anything happened, I never got to find out.  The Old Dominion guy got threatened by me if he didn’t take me back to base.

You see, when I signed up for the Navy, we had to sign three documents professing we weren’t gay.  Being gay in the military meant a court martial for fraudulent personality and a Dishonorable Discharge from the military.  The fear of being labeled and condemned as gay, when I wasn’t, kept me from reporting my initial assault.

In fact, I hid the fact I had been sexually assaulted and molested for nearly 20 years.  I had a second suicide attempt in 1991, because my mother-in-law moved in with my first wife and me.  I was hospitalized for a week and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder without getting to know me.  Then, I was suddenly going through divorce!

I’ve had a second marriage, where I was blessed with two sons.  Yet, I was unhappy, sad, and angry.  I didn’t know why!  I got divorced from her in the seventh year of marriage.  I worked at being a great father, but I felt dead inside from the abandonment.

At some point, my illness got me fired from many a job, kicked out of my home, living with my sister, and basically hating life.  I could only see my children once a month due to distance.  You’d never know how sad I was when I was around my boys!

I moved back in 2004, when I met my third wife.  She had a daughter, which I later adopted.  The past 17 years have had their ups and downs.  I was going to college shortly after seeing a psychologist at the Vet Center where I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  I had always thought up to that point that people with PTSD were combat veterans.  Today, I know that’s not at all true!

In 2007, I survived my third and final suicide attempt.  This time, I feel it was part stress from college, part stress from being in a blended family, part stress from having a wife with a mental illness, and part stress from working so hard to keep my wife’s daughter in SD when her father was moving to MO.

Anyway, this suicide attempt had me face each of my family members, watching the tears running down their faces.  I had to visit my sons at the Visitation Center for a year, because their mother was afraid of me.  I had to learn to love myself.  I had to patch together my family again!

I couldn’t keep a job.  I had panic attacks, or I hated being there.  Either way, I wasn’t a good role model for my children.  So, I pursued SSDI and Service-Connected Disability Compensation through the VA.  It took about six years altogether, but in 2012, I got Individual Unemployability from the VA and SSDI the same year.

During this time, I worked on giving back as a volunteer.  I started through Double-Trouble in Recovery, which is a co-occurring disorder support group.  I later left that for SMART Recovery and NAMI.  I learned so much about retooling my thinking and stop giving into stigma.  I went from being disabled to a Disabled Veteran whenever someone asked what I did for a living!

I volunteered for both SMART Recovery and NAMI as moderator and facilitator.  I’d like to think I helped a lot of people in the process.  I also helped myself in the process.  I got to talk about what makes me sad, angry, or irritable.  I got to also talk about my positive side.  I love my three children.  I love my wife.  I love my friends.  I love my parents.  And I love my in-laws!

 When NAMI Sioux Falls fell apart, some of us got together to create Empire Mental Health Support.  I enjoy my work with EMHS.  It’s great being the foundation of something that has potential to grow exponentially!  The best part is, we can build this nonprofit the way that best serves our consumers and families!

Enjoy the rest of the day.  We’re so happy you all came out to support us!  It warms my heart that you were able to be here today!  I thank you!

Jerrald H. Zeigler, Jr.


Empire Mental Health Support

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