Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness: Ellen Frudakis’s Community Benefits Story

Ellen FrudakisWhen Ellen Frudakis was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early 20s, she thought she was condemned to a life of mediocrity. She admits that she had mistakenly bought into stereotypes that fuel the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“I had done well in school growing up, and always believed I would be successful at whatever I did,” Frudakis said. “So, I was devastated when I was diagnosed. I assumed that having a mental illness meant that I’d only be able to hold down a part-time job, at best. I had misconceptions that mentally ill people were scary, isolated, dangerous — and never young. I felt it just wasn’t cool to have a mental illness, especially as a young adult!”

With treatment and support, including care she received at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, Frudakis learned that she was not alone: One in three young adults is living with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. She discovered that she didn’t need to put her dreams on hold.

“Sharp Mesa Vista staff did a wonderful job setting realistic, yet still hopeful, expectations about what I could look forward to as long as I took my treatment seriously,” Frudakis said.

Equipped with tools to manage her illness, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Services and a master’s in Nonprofit Management. With her natural proclivity for helping the afflicted, she realized that she was in a unique position to challenge the stigma connected to mental illness and help young people just like herself.

Frudakis cofounded the nonprofit organization Impact Young Adults (IYA), with the mission “to enrich the lives of young adults with mental illness with experiences of acceptance, personal growth and accomplishment.” The group hosts weekly social and community events, including hikes, picnics and talent shows, where members, ages 18 to 35, and their friends and family can build relationships and have fun. Frudakis also recently developed Impact MORE, an expansion of the group to include the North County region.

Many members of the group are Sharp Mesa Vista patients. Sharp HealthCare also donates funds to facilitate several of the organization’s events, and Sharp Mesa Vista staff serve on the Impact MORE advisory board.

“Young people living with mental illness do not need to suffer in silence,” Frudakis said. “The truth is that they are not alone, and treatment works! It’s my hope that the Impact organizations are another step toward breaking the stigma and providing a safe place for young adults with mental illness to thrive.”

Find a San Diego Psychiatrist
To find a Sharp-affiliated doctor, search for a San Diego psychiatrist or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm.

For More Mental Health Information
Learn more about Sharp Mesa Vista's Services and Programs or to find general information about mental health, visit Mental Health Disorders or read the Mental Health News. For information about Impact MORE, please email info@impactmore.org or call 760-517-MORE (760-517-6673).

For More Information
To learn more about the positive impact Sharp physicians, nurses, staff and volunteers have on the San Diego community, visit Community Benefits Report. To learn more about Sharp's involvement in the community, visit Community Programs and Health Education. To read more stories like this one, visit Community Benefits Stories.