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With helping comes healing

"I wanted to give back what I received from the mental health field." -- Amy Kiehn, PEER SPECIALIST

Amy Kiehn can only hope that she can give others hope.

Because she has been through it herself, she thinks she may be able to do just that.

Kiehn has struggled with mental illness most of her life. In high school, she knew she was different and didn't fit in. At 18, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with depression.

After the birth of her first son, she had psychotic episodes. Her mental state worsened and after the birth of her daughter, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"I was having delusions and everything was turning color at one point," she explained. "I blacked out for a while, like an alcoholic, but I wasn't drinking."

The diagnosis wasn't good news, but at least now Kiehn had an explanation for her erratic behavior. Medication could help, but that had its up and downs.

"They couldn't get the right medicine combination and a lot of things kept happening," Kiehn said.

While struggling with medications and trying to keep her mental illness under control, her first husband was killed in a car accident.

"That didn't help matters at all," she said.

Her struggles continued throughout the next several years. She eventually remarried but then another tragedy struck. Her husband left her.

"That put me into another hospitalization, that devastation and loss," she said. "That threw me into a tailspin."

Now a mother of three, Kiehn knew she couldn't take care of her children properly. Despite the pain it caused her, she placed them in the care of grandparents.

"I wasn't the kind of mom I wanted to be, and I wanted them to be OK," she said. "When your moods aren't consistent, it's hard for you to be consistent. It was very hard to admit but I wanted them to be OK."

Her dark days became more frequent, but in 2000, Kiehn found the hope she had been searching for. A resident of Starbuck at the time, she was sent to Milestones, an intensive residential treatment center in Alexandria, after yet another hospitalization.

It was the best thing that could have happened to her. Between her doctors, case workers, and a supportive mental health team, everything "came together" for her. She moved to Alexandria shortly after her three-month stay at Milestones.

Although she couldn't work, she became a volunteer at Vikingland Community Support Center in Alexandria, where she was a client in their day treatment program.

With stays at Milestones on occasion when she dealt with the anniversary of a traumatic event, or when she had a medication change, she became a strong advocate of their services. She joined various mental health associations, attended mental health conferences, and was even on the board of a mental health network.

It was through these organizations that she met her husband, John. And it was at a convention that she heard about a job opening as a peer specialist at Milestones in Alexandria.

She wanted it.

"I wanted to give back what I received from the mental health field," she explained.

In November 2011 she went through the 80 hours of training required.

She was hired and started her new job in March 2012. For 20 hours a week, Kiehn is on the other end of the mental health spectrum - she is helping others.

As a certified peer specialist, she is there to tell her story and provide hope and education to those struggling with mental illness.

In helping others, she is also healing herself.

"It gave me a lot of confidence," she said. "It helps keep me kind of focused on something and not what's going on in my life or whatever."

Although she knows her battle with mental illness will never be over, her new job has taught her that it all happened for a reason - so she can help others.

"My hope is to give them hope," she concluded. "I want to help lessen their burden a little, and know that maybe their life is a little better just because I was there to listen."


The Region 4 South Adult Mental Health Consortium (AMHC), which serves Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties, is sponsoring the 2nd annual Day at Home on Friday, October 12 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Broadway Ballroom Event Center in Alexandria.

Session I, consumer education, will educate people involved with the mental health system on interacting with legislators.

Session 2 will discuss Reform 202 and the future for mental health services in Mennesota.

Session 3 will provide an opportunity to thank legislators for their support of mental health services, and provide a time to share personal stories.


October 7-13 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Following are a few facts on the illness:

• Mental illness is a medical illness. One in four adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year. One in 17 adults lives with a serious mental illness.

• Since 2012, states have cut mental health services by $1.6 billion.

• Unemployed people have been four times more likely to report symptoms of severe mental illness.

• Early identification of symptoms and treatment results in better outcomes.

For information, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health's website at