“I’ve Seen the Impact of Mental Illness and Addiction First-Hand”
Maria Spaulding, a long-time advocate for mental health and substance use, is still on a mission many years after retiring from a career leading local and state human services agencies. Maria joined SouthLight’s Board of Directors in 2021, and we wanted to find out why this work is so important to her.
“I’ve been hit with it personally.” Maria shares that she lost a brother to alcoholism and she has overcome her own mental illness. She says, “I know mental illness can be treated as long as the person is willing, follows instruction and has self-awareness of their condition.”
Q: For 52 years, SouthLight has been a trusted leader in providing both mental health and substance use services for the most vulnerable in our community. What is it about SouthLight’s mission that resonates with you?
A: Everything I do is related to poverty, illness and mental illness…I’m still on a mission. I want to improve the next generation. I am interested in furthering the cause, in eliminating addiction. I like to see people being who they really are, and enjoying a good quality of life.
Q: What is one thing you’d like people to understand about mental illness and substance use?
A: You don’t have to be struggling with addiction to seek help for mental illness. I have alcoholism in my family. I’ve seen the impact mental illness and substance use can have on a family, and I want to help people get treatment.
You don’t have to be struggling with addiction to seek help for mental illness.
Q: You’ve shared openly about your own mental illness. What do you want people to know about mental illness?
A: I want people to know that it’s a community problem. Mental illness is everywhere. People are just ashamed and many times they don’t even know what the problem is. Mental illness and addiction affect our lives within the community so greatly; it causes high crime rates, it fills our hospital emergency rooms and it causes death.
I know mental illness can be treated as long as the person is willing, follows instruction and has self-awareness of their condition. Without cooperation from the patient, success is not possible. You’ve got to take your medication as prescribed and give your provider feedback on it’s affect. This is the only way you will get better.
I always had people around me who would give me honest feedback on my actions and emotional performance. For example: Was I overly aggressive or slow in response? Did I appear attentive, unreasonably lively, clear and alert, like myself?
Q: What drew you to a career in human services?
A: I always wanted to be closest to where the problems are. Early in my career, I was responsible for mental health, social services, housing, public health—all the arenas of human services. I kept leaning towards the human services area. I found the harder I worked, the more I liked it. It became my mission.
Q: What’s something that you did not know about SouthLight?
A: With my career in human services, I knew all about SouthLight. But I didn’t know that there was a location in Durham.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your role on the Board of Directors?
A: I love being a mentor and an advisor. SouthLight is something I can contribute to; I hope to help raise money so that treatment is possible and that we can care for those who are affected by these diseases.
Q: You have been a passionate leader and advocate for human services in our community and throughout the state. During these trying times, what keeps you going?
A: The people that I meet and the people that I serve. That’s what keeps me going. Knowing what the outcome will result in.
Q: How can you help someone who may be struggling, but reluctant to reach out for help?
A: I recognize the fact that I might not be the one to encourage them to get treatment. I try to find the person who would be most successful to help them get that treatment. Many times it’s the right person asking.
About SouthLight Healthcare:
Founded in 1970, SouthLight Healthcare is one of the area’s largest nonprofit providers of substance use treatment and mental health services. SouthLight partners with individuals and communities to provide innovative treatment solutions delivered with compassion and dignity. With outpatient and community-based programs, SouthLight provides prevention, education, and treatment services in the Triangle and beyond. Call 919-787-6131 for help or more information or visit www.southlight.org.