As a member of the PACT (Program for Assertive Community Treatment) III Team, clinician Melissa Gentry spends the majority of her time with individuals who have been diagnosed with severe mental illness. While it can be a difficult population to serve, Gentry has a keen – if not intuitive – understanding of their struggles.
Gentry herself has lived with major mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and phobias, for much of her life. In fact, she said she was in her early teens when she became severely depressed and developed such a strong phobia of school her first year of high school that she was hospitalized.
“My father served in Vietnam and I can see now that he came back with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Gentry recalled. “He became an alcoholic and I think I absorbed a lot of that.”
A native of North Carolina, Gentry spent time in an alternative school before finally graduating from a regular high school. Abusive relationships and family obligations delayed her from completing her secondary education. Following the death of her father in 2003, Gentry relocated to the New River Valley with her mother and eventually earned her undergraduate degree from North Carolina State University before acquiring her master’s degree in counseling from Radford University in 2014.
“It took me a long time, but I was determined,” Gentry said. “I have a strong desire to help others, so I knew what I had to do.”
Gentry noted that having the insight of a fellow consumer allows her to quickly establish relationships with her clients.
“They see that I understand what it’s like to live with a mental illness and that it is also possible to function, to hold down a job, and to help others,” added Gentry. “So, I build rapport with them fairly easily.”
Gentry, who did her internship with NRVCS’ Community Recovery Center, hopes her efforts will inspire others to do the same.
“I’ve had a journey, but don’t regret anything I’ve been through,” concluded Gentry. “It’s been very hard at times, but it’s also been a great learning experience.”