May 2012 - Rolf Kotar Person of the Month
Rolf Kotar is our person of the month for May 2012. May is Mental Health month and CCDC wanted to profile someone who has contributed personally and professionally to the area of social justice for people with mental illness. Rolf is our Mental Health Public Policy Liaison. Rolf also lives with a serious mental illness.
Rolf has been with CCDC since July 01, 1997. He originally came to CCDC because he wanted to write grant proposals. He initially tried without success to get hired by mental health agencies and was put off by every agency. He found out about CCDC approached the former Executive Director Jean Parker. She asked if he was dependable and asked him to prove it by writing for our newsletter. When CCDC printed what he wrote in our newsletter he continued to seek a job as a grant writer. He was offered a volunteer position and told (like others who eventually become paid employees at CCDC) that he needed to show us what he could do first. Within three months he had his first grant funded and it was our first time being accepted by the Denver Foundation. That successful grant was followed by several more and over the years he obtained thousands of dollars for CCDC. After more than five years he was a bit burnt out on writing grants but CCDC began experiencing an increase in mental health advocacy calls and a need to have several key policy meetings in the mental health arena covered. In keeping with our motto "nothing about us without us" CCDC needed to make sure that someone who lived with a mental illness and who would be connected to others with mental illness attended these meetings on our behalf. The timing was right so Rolf became our Mental Health Policy Liaison and has served CCDC well in that role ever since.
Rolf first experienced mental illness as a college student doing a work study in a job in a Georgia Hospital. His goal was to become a counselor but he was also planning to become a registered nurse for job security. He started becoming irrational and had some scary things happen with his thinking. It got worse and worse and finally he had a full blown psychotic episode in 1980 and had to come home. He found a great social worker who worked with his whole family. He got treatment and four years later returned to college (Antioch) and graduated.
Rolf introduces himself at meetings as the Mental Health Policy Liaison for CCDC not as a person with a mental illness because of that stigma by professionals. In his private life he is very open. Being mentally ill is part of who he is and his self concept. Rolf said he has found all too often that the stigma is the worst among those who should know better, mental health professionals. CCDC hears this from many of our members. Rolf recalled an experience when he was trying to get hired as a grant writer by a mental health center. The person in charge of hiring asked Rolf how many years he has been in treatment ,and when Rolf said 26 years the person just sighed and walked away. Rolf regularly shares about other professionals who are respectful and competent but wishes that the stigma would not be so prevalent among those whose who are paid to help those who live with mental illness.
He would love to not be mentally ill and would take the cure if he could; but when asked if there was anything positive about having a mental illness he said that in recovering from he has learned to get past very difficult times and have a lot of success in my life that I would not have had otherwise. He has learned how to help himself to the point where he is able to withstand difficult life events.
Rolf says that the stigma is much more disabling than any mental illness because the stigma is what keeps us out of jobs. The stigma also impairs self confidence and self worth. Rolf says that many of us who have been in treatment for so many years label ourselves according to the stigma and then we sabotage ourselves and become more dependent on the care we get. We become afraid to take a risk. Rolf says that this happens when people get rejected so many times due to the stigma that they stop trying. Rolf said we need a better definition of disability and it should not be tied to work because many people can work sometimes and not others. He said the same needs to apply to treatment. People need to be able to access treatment when they need it without having to be in extensive treatment all of the time--however those with lifelong mental illness should not lose all access to treatment just because they are doing well. The old model of mental health treatment was to be in treatment every week or even more frequently. Due to changes in funding treatment is no longer something that one gets every week but one is supposed to be able to go for a few sessions and take what they learn and use in the community. It is more like crisis intervention. Rolf does not see this as all bad and believes that it is OK to reduce frequency of treatment as long as a counselor is available in case something comes up and the client or patient needs to be seen. Using medication is a very individual choice that should be respected. Rolf has chosen to use it and feels he is able to function better because of medication but respects choices made by friends and colleagues and believes that this is a highly personal decision.
Rolf has many other interests. He has a lifelong interest in classical music. He played clarinet for many years and has played guitar for past 16 years. He also enjoys photography and has been published and has had feature articles published in publications that have a broad readership.
As an employee and colleague and member Rolf has been a terrific addition to the CCDC family. He is dependable, reliable, loyal, and hard working. If Rolf says he will do something it will get done and will be done properly. Rolf takes his responsibilities seriously and has always shown the respect for diversity that is such as strong value for CCDC.