Amariah Brewster is a certified community health worker, a minister in training, a business owner (of an apparel business in which she reinvests the profits into the community) and a student. She’s also a supervisor at one of ADAMH’s providers, The P.E.E.R. Center, a peer recovery organization that helps individuals who live with mental illness, addiction and trauma. Amariah began working at the center a few months after being diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder.
At 21 years of age, her list of accomplishments is even more impressive given the many obstacles she’s had to overcome, including growing up in poverty, navigating multiple mental health diagnoses and losing her father. Amariah shared her story with ADAMH to provide hope for others with bipolar disorder, as well as those who have simply had the odds stacked against them.
Life before diagnosis of bipolar disorder
Amariah had previously been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and an unspecified mood disorder. She struggled with periods of mania and depression, and in November 2020 she experienced an episode that was unlike anything she had prior.
“I had a manic episode, and I chopped all my hair off and spent all the money in my savings account,” recalled Amariah.
She said she didn’t have any regrets about her actions during the manic episode, but when it ended, she felt all the regrets at once and became severely depressed and had suicidal ideation.
The diagnosis and the stigma surrounding it
After her sister encouraged her to seek help, Amariah went into a facility where she stayed for a week. She was diagnosed with bipolar 2 and was given medication to help stabilize her.
Today, Amariah is a strong believer in medication and therapy, but getting help was not easy. In addition to the difficulty of navigating the health care system, she had to break past stigmas and barriers present in society and in the African American community.
Her father did not agree with her seeking therapy or getting on medication. “He did not want me to take medication at all. He believed that I was so powerful that I could fix my own mental illness.”
Amariah also had to deal with stigma around the disorder itself. Like many, she grew up hearing people being called “bipolar” when they were simply having a bad day or exhibiting mood swings. She had been called it herself, too. “Before I was diagnosed, I always heard the stereotypes, like ‘girl, you’re bipolar’ or ‘you’re crazy.’”
Once diagnosed, Amariah had to learn what it really meant to have bipolar disorder. That knowledge is powerful and something she wish she had sooner, as she now understands that she has a brain disorder that has been responsible for the severe shifts in mood and energy she had felt for years. She has also learned that with the right medication and tools individuals with bipolar disorder are able to regain control of their lives.
Finding her purpose, and The P.E.E.R. Center
Amariah’s father passed away before she finished high school. Amariah and her family were struggling with that loss. She spoke with the community health worker at her school. He not only asked what she needed in the moment but also took an interest in her future. Amariah didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do after graduating but told him that she didn’t want to go to college and that she wanted to do everything in her power to help someone. He encouraged her to become a certified community health worker through a program at Ohio State that was funded by a grant.
After graduating high school and completing the certification program, she found herself working at Bath & Body Works. While she was a certified community health worker, every job application and interviewer told her they needed her to have two years of experience. She said she didn’t understand how she was going to get that experience if no one gave her a shot.
One of her mentors eventually put her in contact with Derrick Kirkland, who was the supervisor at The P.E.E.R. Center at the time. (Derrick now works for ADAMH.) Derick immediately asked Amariah to fill out an application and come in for an interview. “He gave me an opportunity. He gave me a chance,” said Amariah.
She originally started at The P.E.E.R. Center as a peer specialist. She was offered her current position as a supervisor this past November, on the same day she turned 21.
Working at the center means everything to Amariah. “I get to be that person who I needed. There were so many times where I felt like I needed a person who could relate to me and I didn’t have that, but I get to be that person now.”
She’s still learning every day, and she loves that aspect of her job. “There are people here who have dealt with bipolar disorder longer than I have. Although I may be [on staff], they can teach me something that I didn’t know.”
Why she tells her story and her advice for others
“I am very open about my mental health diagnoses. I have bipolar 2, generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD—and I speak about them because it’s important for people to know that with those things you still have the capability to be successful.”
Considering her background and lived experience, she describes being a supervisor and a minister in training to be “an honor in itself.” When asked if she ever saw herself being those two things at 21 when she was a teenager, her answer was a definite no.
“I literally remember people telling me that I was going to die before I was 18, so no, not at all. I used to fantasize and dream about graduating high school. That’s how hard it was for me to do it. It was a fantasy at one point, and I made it a reality.”
Amariah wants everyone to know there is hope and that perseverance is key. She is proof you can live an enjoyable, fulfilling life with bipolar disorder. She encourages those with bipolar disorder to talk with medical professionals, stay up to date with their checkups, work on a list of coping skills and have a support system to lean on when needed. To Amariah, it’s about equipping yourself with the right tools and resources so that you are able to successfully handle an episode when it occurs.
Looking for help?
Search our provider network to find the services you need. ADAMH helps Franklin County residents find the right places to turn for affordable, quality alcohol, substance use disorder and mental health services.
If you are in crisis and need immediate assistance, call or text 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.