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Jacksonville man is finding light in the darkness of mental health issues and substance abuse

Dean Tomlin turned his life around with the help of River Region.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's a struggle that affects nearly 1 in 5 Americans. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 50 million Americans are currently dealing with some type of mental health issue.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and a Jacksonville man wants to share his story about overcoming his substance abuse and mental health issues with the help of a local treatment center.

"I was afraid of living normal," recalled Dean Tomlin, "I didn't know what normal was.  Every time I got paid I'd go buy some beer, buy some crack, go to a hotel and drink and smoke until I'm done and all my money's gone. I got caught up in it for almost 30 years and when you do something for 30 years you adapt to it because that's all you know now."

Now 55-years-old, life used to be an endless cycle of destruction for Tomlin. 

His rock bottom was a 2 year prison sentence for drugs, but that's when a counselor gave him a phone number to call when he got out.

"I'll tell you, it was life changing for me," said Tomlin.

That phone call was with River Region, a treatment facility that is celebrating 50 years of serving the citizens of Jacksonville. 

Dr. Jacqueline Dowdy is the CEO of River Region and says that her organization tries to treat the whole person because many times mental health and substance abuse are an intertwined problem.

"Our goal is to wrap services around our clients because we realized that even in treatment it's still an ongoing process," said Dr. Dowdy.

Tomlin was part of River Region's residential treatment program with both group and individual counseling as well as frequent meetings with a mental health psychiatrist.  

"They teach you things like self care, they teach you things like coping skills and teach you things that you can use if you ever feel like you're depressed and want to use," said Tomlin.

"That program allows them to be in a controlled environment where they can focus on their recovery," said Dr. Dowdy, "when they do leave that environment those are tools that they put in their tool box to take with them."

A metaphorical toolbox for the skills that he learned at River Region, but these days Tomlin carries a physical tool box as well.

"I got my life together," said Tomlin, "got a little handyman business and it's booming, my phone stays ringing all the time. If it wasn't for River Region, I probably wouldn't have a life right now."

Dean Tomlin is 3 years sober.

"Man, I feel like myself," said Tomlin, "I feel like I'm a product of what my mother and father was trying to raise, I feel like that, I turned things totally around."

River Region serves all of northeast Florida and is available if you, or someone you know is battling a variety of issues including mental health or substance abuse.  

Their phone number is 904-899-6300 and their website is: https://www.rrhs.org/

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