“Scott is our oldest son. He had the whole world ahead of him. He was very smart, had two college degrees, a whole group of friends,” said Don Handley, Scott’s mother.
But in 2010, at the age of 23, Scott had his first psychotic break. His mother said that was when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
“At the time, we were very naive about the whole mental health system and about mental illness in general,” Handley said. “You could see him struggling with the voices he heard and those voices were very real to him. It is difficult for a young person to accept, but not understand what is happening to him. So I think he was tired of it and he didn’t think his life was going to go the way he wanted it to,” Handley said.
Scott took his own life in 2020, and since then, his mother has committed to spreading awareness about mental health and the services offered by the National Alliance for Mental Health, also known as NAMI.
“NAMI is the largest community organization dedicated to mental health,” said Ciomara Bridges-Mata of NAMI Pinellas County.
The organization is engaged in education, support and advocacy for people suffering from mental illness.
On Thursday, they moved into their Clearwater office, hoping to build a community and run group sessions for anyone who wants to learn about mental health. All of their services are free and they have a message for Pinellas County residents.
“They can use our services, having come, having appeared. Our doors are open to serve, support and inspire hope in the community,” Bridges-Mata said.