When Rebecca Wahl, 17, and her older sister, Tess asked their psychiatrist mom what her patients are like in the mental health facility where she works, they expected to hear some interesting stories.
But instead they were enlightened by mom’s answers.
“Mom said, ‘They’re just like you and me,”’ Rebecca Wahl said of her mom, Dr. Rebecca Wahl.
When the girls followed up with the question, “Do they act crazy?” Rebecca Wahl said, her mom’s response was, “They’re going through a time of personal growth. This is something that should be normalized.”
The sisters looked at each other as if the light bulbs went on at the same time, the younger Rebecca Wahl said.
The pair were moved to start the nonprofit, “Help for Happiness,” which collects and buys quality-of-life items — fuzzy socks, art supplies, stuffed animals, quality hygiene products — for psychiatric patients at Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown. Dr. Wahl works at a different psychiatric hospital.
Tess Wahl has now moved out of state and Rebecca Wahl, a rising senior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, is rejuvenating efforts for the nonprofit they started collecting for in 2018.
They’ve made two big deliveries to CVH and Rebecca is now looking for money donations to buy more of the popular and allowable items.
“I started it to give something positive to the community. To help patients feel less alone in their treatment because I always ask about patients,” Rebecca Wahl said.
She understands that a stick of Axe deodorant and an adult coloring book aren’t going to work miracles.
“These small items might not be solving the problem, but they’re part of the solution,” she said. “They’ve proven (through staff feedback) to bring a tremendous comfort and sense of normalcy to the patients during their time of personal growth.”
Dr. Wahl said she’s proud of both daughters.
“Destigmatizing mental illness and its treatment is an incredibly relevant and important goal in our society today,” Dr. Wahl said. “It may seem trivial to be providing patients with comfort/recreational items, but it is these small things that can normalize the patient’s stay and further patient recovery.”
She said “Help for Happiness” is a way in which people can “express their support and send their encouragement to those who are demonstrating great bravery in facing serious illness and recovery.
“Receiving help should be something that is celebrated rather than feared,” Dr. Wahl said.
A contact at the hospital referred the Courant to Chief Executive Officer Lakisha Hyatt, who did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The younger Rebecca Wahl, whose father is an orthopedic doctor, said she’s always been aware of the affects of medical and mental illness on the “trajectory” of people’s lives.
Like mom, Rebecca Wahl said, she’s bothered by the stigmatization of those with mental illness.
“Those with mental illness should be treated with the same dignity as those with physical illness,” she said.
“I find the stigmatizing around mental health to be absurdly ironic because someone is being vulnerable and getting help with their mental health,” she said. “In return they’re isolated from society and labeled …. It’s a positive thing and not something to be afraid of.”
Mom has been a “huge help” in the group’s effort, Rebecca Wahl said, including connecting the group with CVH.