By Kimberly Allen
As a new mental health legislative advocate, standing at the podium on the steps of the Texas State Capitol at a televised press conference, Kimberly Allen heard herself say, “I’m Kimberly, and I live with bipolar disorder.” After it concluded, she was then asked by a newspaper journalist how long she had been openly sharing her experience. Kimberly glanced at her watch and responded, “about 5 minutes.”
The next day, the story was printed in the newspaper in Kimberly’s mother’s hometown. She felt concerned immediately, and also thought of her professional role and the potential of loss of relationships but she remembered the last words of her father many years prior. He was a physician and also lived with bipolar disorder, dying due to alcoholism. “Remember”, he said, tell them that I died from stigma. Try to do something about it.”
From that moment at the Texas Legislature on, Kimberly “just kept saying yes”, becoming Chair of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Texas, leading DBSA every Texas legislative session. Through her advocacy with DBSA national, coupled with professional experience as a leader in the treatment and recovery of substance use disorders, Kimberly now partners through Harvard Pilgrim, Harvard Medical School and the Healthy Brains Global Initiative, an unprecedented nine-billion-dollar research project. She is also a national consultant and new CEO of a virtual family support services organization supporting families affected by substance misuse and dependency.
Though Kimberly is a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and has a Master’s of Science in Family Studies, she states that being a past certified mental health peer support specialist and Family Recovery Coach working in the recovery from substance use disorders is of primary importance, as it is “peer to peer” nonclinical support services.
Kimberly shares, “I feel that it is the lived experience that people most relate to. I got sober in 1986 and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10 years later, which is typical in bipolar disorder. And, getting sober made me feel much worse, and that is what we do not want to happen.
For that reason, The Healthy Brains Global Initiative is starting to research people as young as 11, as a first initiative. Healthy Brains Global Initiative is a $9 billion brain research project. Kimberly is a member of Healthy Brains Global Initiative leadership.
She adds, “the suicide rates in this country are astounding. My work is geared around being “out,” so we can give hope to people and avoid stigma. That is why I use my name. Stigma is deadly and self-stigma is worse. I am now 60-years old. I am sober, working and in a 25 year-relationship. My Dad died alone at age 57 and I really miss him. I wish he could see the miracles today of modern-day science and of therapeutic interventions that actually work! I am proud to have all that he gave me. Bipolar disorder may be one of those things, but he always said to never give up and I haven’t! I consider myself a holder a hope. Hope is always possible and he was right! Never give up! I am living proof that things can get better!
One thing I know for sure, when I stepped forward to participate in advocacy, it changed my perspective, my perception of myself, my philosophy, the language I use to describe myself. It changed everything for me. The rest of the time, I am blessed to be able to afford appropriate medications and the kind of care all people need and deserve, and that includes in the public health system, but before everything, we have to talk about it. Talk about mental health. Talk about what it is like to live with a mental health condition.
If I can help to initiate the conversation, then I am surely glad to do so. Stay educated about mental health and educate the family too. Help is available. Stay encouraged! There is a lot of hope and peers like me are waiting to talk to you!”
Kimberly Allen is a national, executive level behavioral health consultant, acting as a Senior Advisor and Regional Managing Director, Southern U.S. partnering through a leading, national behavioral health consulting firm, Via Positiva. She shares her addiction treatment industry education and insight with large behavioral health systems, Fortune 500 corporations and leading universities, and participates on consulting, training, coaching and other projects related to behavioral health.
Kimberly was recently selected as CEO of Via Family Network, a related company that will be providing virtual recovery support services families impacted by addiction. A past fully licensed insurance agent and current licensed addiction professional, Kimberly’s areas of focus include using her specialized knowledge to help addiction treatment organizations to develop and implement business administrative processes related to insurance and risk reduction initiatives. Other projects include serving as a Council Member with GLG global consulting. Past professional experience includes being an addiction treatment center Administrator, employee assistance program sales and managed care professional, and a certified peer in mental health and substance use disorder recovery support, with over a decade of providing direct care services.
She was selected as a mental health Peer Leader in Texas, by certifying body Via Hope, Texas Mental Health Resources. She helps to author academic manuscripts and corporate white papers. An active mental health advocate, Kimberly served as past volunteer Chair, DBSA Texas Grassroots Organization for four years. Resultant projects include serving as a Peer and Stakeholder Advisor, interacting between leading academic researchers, industry researchers, biopharmaceutical companies and people living with depression and bipolar disorder, helping to bring expertise, data, and patient participation and perspectives to behavioral health research studies and projects. She is a current member of the Use of Proceeds Working Group and Lived Experience Council on the Healthy Brains Global Initiative, an unprecedented global research project focused on brain health, and recently served as a Stakeholder Advisor on a three-year PCORI-funded project, collaborating with Harvard Pilgrim Health Institute and Harvard Medical School, Division of Health Policy and Insurance Research. Results included helping to author a research poster and academic manuscript on peer engagement strategies and being acknowledged in a published paper on insurance research. Her independent research on the value and use of behavioral health peer recovery support services has been featured at three national conferences.
Kimberly also partnered with DBSA and The Milken Institute for Strategic Philanthropy, serving on the Wellness Advisory Council on the Beyond Blue Initiative. Other current volunteer roles include serving as a Stability Leader with The Stability Network, acting as a mental health Ambassador, an Advisory Board Member of The University of Texas at Austin, Steve Hicks School of Social Work and on the national board of AspenRidge Recovery. She is past President of RecoveryPeople a regional peer-led nonprofit group based in Texas and is past Advisory Board member of Jordan Peer Recovery based in Baltimore, D.C. area, specializing in diversity and peer training and support services. She is past President the Employee Assistance Program Professionals, Dallas and Austin chapters.