I started my own Mental Health Advocacy in 2003 in Sarasota, Florida (more about my history below).   Peers ask me what do “they have do to become and mental health advocate?”  I would normally answer them: be willing to “talk about your story and experience with a focus on the positive.”  Doing this is the first step toward advocating for mental health.  It starts with YOU! Your story is the foundation to building a solid platform for advocacy.

Are you a peer in recovery and want to become a Mental Health Advocate for yourself and to help others? Or a caregiver or loved one that wants to get involved in making a difference in the mental health community here in your local area or here in  Charlotte County?… Then this special Charlotte Behavioral Health Care Event will be the perfect jump start or refresher training focused on the consumer level.

The EVENT is for: MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATES and anyone who ever wanted to be one! While participation is at no cost, you must still register to attend!
When: Mark your calendars -
January 21 (8:30AM to 4:30PM), 2015
January 22 (9:00AM to 4:30PM), 2015
January 23 (9:00AM to 4:30PM), 2015  
The Florida Leadership Academy is:
The three-day Leadership Academy is an educational program for individuals who are eager to strengthen their leadership, networking, and advocacy skills. It focuses on creating system and community change through collective self-determination, which exemplifies empowerment.” ~ Suncocast Region Leadership Academy
For Information and Registration contact:
Michael McNally, Leadership Coordinator
(239)260-7313 or 
PDF: Jan 21-23 Leadership Academy Flyer
I  got a chance to talk to Michael McNally, Leadership Coordinator the other day, he said,
“We are so pleased to be partnering with CBHC in order to bring the Academy to Charlotte County. Everyone will go home with a set of practical tools to become better, more effective advocates….peers, family members, friends, and providers…..we are all in this together and are all working to improve mental health services in our own communities and in the State of Florida!”

Michael is right. We can’t PASS THIS UP. I then made sure to ask him for “Florida Leadership Academy- Participant Application”  before I hung up the phone. Why?  The information and techniques that will be going over are priceless for a mental health advocate. Here is a sample of them:

  • How to become a better mental health advocate
  • Improve communication skills
  • The “etiquette of advocacy”
  • To lead and build consensus
  • Developing Clear Goals and Action Plans
  • Funding Sources and Strategies
Okay, you’re thinking: Yeah, I want to do more. I could be a mental health advocate, but are still not filling out the “Florida Leadership Academy- Participant Application” – think about it in financial terms…to understand how very SPECIAL this GIFT really is.
1. Location- First, it’s in Punta Gorda (awesome)…which saves the cost of Hotel 3 nights (Average cost 159/ night = $477.00).
2. Gas (depends even if it’s just to drive to the hotel and back $60.00)
3. Leadership Academy Day 1
4. Leadership Academy Day 2
5. Leadership Academy Day 3
and the training if you had to pay out of pocket for it, including gas, hotels and cost of say a training/educational course similar to this one…You could expect to realistically pay $699.00-$999.00. Not only is this a FREE training, but you may qualify for a $35.00 stipend! 
How I, Chato Stewart, got started:
I started my Mental Health Advocacy on my own in 2003 in Sarasota, Florida At that time, there were no peer-to-peer support groups for Bipolar Disorder. I needed more help then what I was getting with my newly diagnosed “illness”… I was going to a weekly group at my provider led by a psych student. No one was making any progress or staying in the group except 4 of us die hards/core peers that would show up early and hold our own micro peer to peer group.  The psych student  would switch every 3 months, so you would have to re-hash your life story with each new student 4 times a year…Even if we got a good student and some progress… we would have to start all over again. Needless to say, this was not a productive group, but it did lead  me and another member getting involved with the national organization and creating the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA Sarasota Chapter).  We talked to Doctors hospital and they allowed us the use of a meeting room Monday nights. We helped hundreds in the community… helping our peers by having a safe place to go and talk about mental health issues. And we helped other advocates…We learned from each other, and we helped each other. There is a special bond you make as an advocate that lasts a lifetime.
 I had a rocky start because I was never sure if what I was doing was right. I started a peer-to-peer group on my own, then convinced someone from my weekly group to help me.  I had one person tell me “I was just manic” and this idea that I would help tens of thousands of peers was just a part of my mania. Okay, don’t be judgmental at that undisclosed “person” for their statement.  It is valid, if we are going to help others, we first have to make sure we are not in need of help. I am fine, my Mental Health Advocacy work with my cartoons and blog, and newsletter, and newspapers have  reached about 200,000 people a year world-wide.  That is a very low estimate, too.

Share the Joy Year-Round!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 @ 09:12 AM
Author: Chato Stewart

Gratitude AttitudeIt’s that time of the year when: many will be choosing to give thanks and celebrate and possibly enjoy big meals and celebrations together with family and/or friends.

For what are You personally thankful? Have You thought deeply about the mental and physical wellness benefits of being grateful?

Professor Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, says: “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of self.”

Do You have a Gratitude Attitude? And is it year-round?

“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” Robert Braathe

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens

“It is impossible to feel grateful and depressed in the same moment.” Naomi Williams

“In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day–or to celebrate each special day.” Rasheed Ogunlaru

“This a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.” Maya Angelou

Gratitude is a positive attitude leading to wellness that is worth cultivating. All of us have many reasons for gratitude. Please notice this excerpt from Time Magazine:

People who describe themselves as feeling grateful . . . tend to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.

Many have tried keeping a Gratitude Journal which has helped them to concentrate on the positives in their lives and not negatives.

Here’s some Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal from Jason Marsh:
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.

 Every Day and each breath is a gift! Life is precious and sharing our joys with others including family and friends is much for which to be Grateful. Gratitude is infectious, so if you get any FLU this season, I hope it’s the Gratitude Flu! Share the Joy Year-Round!

Chato Stewart
Consumer Peer Ambassador

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Should Floridians Be Concerned?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 @ 09:12 AM
Author: Chato Stewart
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Should Floridians Be Concerned?
In Florida, we usually enjoy temperate and/or balmy comfortable weather…unless, it’s hurricane season. Northeners (among others from various places) don’t always have the luxury of predictably warmer/comfortable/sunny weather and year-round. So, should us Floridians be concerned whatsoever with Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Here is one definition of SAD from Mayo Clinic on-line:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the Spring and Summer SAD

Yes, even Floridians could suffer from SAD! Notice these symptoms (and excerpt again from Mayo Clinic):
In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
Spring and summer SAD
Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety
Please think carefully about these symptoms and “weather” or not …You may need expert/professional help to cope and/or treat. The Mayo-clinic encourages all of us to do the following:
“If you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.”
Depression can strike no matter the weather or season or state in the USA or elsewhere. Be prepared and Act accordingly…We all want to be Happy and not SAD, right?
Please join me for a follow-up post (Part 2) on this timely topic.

Charlotte Behavioral Healthcare, Inc. (CBHC) is committed to providing hope and dedicated to enhancing the lives of the members of the community that we serve. Our aim is in providing quality mental health and substance abuse services that will enhance the quality of life of the individuals receiving services. In order to ensure the quality of services, we measure and evaluate performance data from a variety of sources, ranging from patients, families of patients, to staff and external stakeholders. Data is analyzed to identify areas of strength, areas for improvement, longitudinal changes, and other trends that may influence performance.

The fiscal report includes performance data gathered over the past fiscal year and summaries from all relevant sources, including any performance improvement plans that were identified as necessary along with suggestions for growth and improvement.


Each year CBHC strives to demonstrate an increase in the number of clients served and was pleased to see a 10% increase between July 2013 and July 2014. While the number of clients served annually is still difficult to measure, CBHC has improved data tracking systems. Therefore the increase in clients served may be a more accurate reflection of unduplicated clients served. This fiscal year CBHC provided services to 11,250 individuals yet served 10,269 clients in the previous fiscal year. This number increased approximately by 981 individuals who were screened for services, in addition to those participating in ongoing services such as case management or medication management.

Below are two charts and the annual report (PDF file). You can see CBHC’s progress over the years. Take note of the community need as for mental health and substance abuse when you look at the fiscal year  total clients.  In 2008, only 6,451 and only 5 years later, it’s about to double pushing 11,250.  That would be great if we weren’t talking about people in need of mental health services.  What can we do to provide more for our community?

There are many consumer driven and provider services that are on the horizon for 2015 that will help.  For one, The Haven’s Drop In Center meeting here at CBHC is growing.  Also, NAMI Charlotte County is officially “back” and meeting monthly.  Let’s make 2015 about us, about our mental balance and wellness.


Fiscal Year 2008 to 2014

Large Image: Fiscal Year 2008-to-2014 jpg

CBHC 2013

Annual Report PDF