Mental Health, Substance & Domestic Abuse

with Jennifer Craft-Williams,

NaviGuide, United Church Homes

This week on Ask a NaviGuide, host Ashley Bills chats with Jennifer Craft-Williams, one of our NaviGuides at United Church Homes. In this conversation, Ashley and Jennifer discuss supporting those struggling in mental health or abuse cases. Topics include resources and programs for individuals as well as practical advice to help someone in need. All that and more on this week’s episode.
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Jennifer’s background working in mental health and abuse care (0:42)
  • Support systems are available for mental health (1:16)
  • Jennifer’s passion for helping victims of abuse (3:33)
  • Shelter services to protect those in abuse situations (5:54)
  • Getting someone the help they need in abuse cases (8:59) 
  • Final thoughts and takeaways (12:41)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Ashley Bills 00:07
Hello and welcome to Ask a NaviGuide part of the Abundant Aging Podcast Series. I’m Ashley, your host and on this show we talk about aging and family caregiving with United Church Homes’ NaviGuide team. Our NaviGuides have decades of experience in helping families work through tough issues, so that what we share on the show will be helpful to our listeners so that they can aid abundantly. Today we have Jennifer with us who will help us understand mental health and domestic abuse. Please remember the opinions shared in this podcast are not meant to convey or take the place of clinical legal or other professional advice. Hello, Jennifer.

Jennifer Craft-Williams 00:43
Hi, Ashley. Thank you for having me.

Ashley Bills 00:46
Yeah, I’m so glad that you’re here. So Jennifer, we know that you’re navigated with, you know, at your homes, but you have a specialty in helping individuals with mental health issues. Could you explain a little bit about your background in that area?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 01:01
I have experience working as a mental health specialist for five years. In my role, I was responsible for conducting home visits, developing case management plans, and just helping the client with whatever they needed. So that’s pretty much the background.

Ashley Bills 01:19
Sure. Yeah. That sounds great. So can you tell us a little bit about what support systems are in place for those suffering from mental illness?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 01:28
Absolutely. Every community or every state has their own mental program. In Mississippi, we have life help. It can be covered through private pay, or through Medicaid or you can pay out of pocket. So if you’re searching the internet, so resources, you can start with a state funded program for mental health, and they should provide you with a list of mental health providers in your area. In Mississippi, you can get assigned a therapist and wife help. Also they have medication clinics in which they prescribe psychotropic medication to help with some of the signs and symptoms of mental health. In Mississippi, you can get a fan, a therapist through life help, and they have what you call medication clinics in which they prescribe psychotropic medication that can help with the chemical imbalance that causes mental health, disease or disorder.

Ashley Bills 02:22
Gotcha. So what sort of solutions have you seen out there? Once you identify that you have an illness and you need help, what other solutions are there in addition to some of those that you just provided?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 02:37
Well, first of all, you can realize that something may not be going accordingly, you will need an initial assessment to a mental assessment to determine what your experience is, because it’s a lot of different disorders like bipolar schizophrenia, you have to first be dyed clinically diagnosed to determine what illness that’s cow, that will be the first step. And after that they will make a diagnosis. And at that point, if you need medication therapy, or whatever you need, your therapist will be responsible for supplying you with

Ashley Bills 03:10
that. So if someone finds themselves like in the hospital, do hospitals or health systems do a lot of referrals like this to

Jennifer Craft-Williams 03:19
Absolutely you have some hospitals that have a whole unit designed for a site called a psych psychiatric unit. And it’s for people that are maybe experienced in a mental crisis. In hospitals, they have referral sources as well. Typically, the social worker is the one that handles that to make the referral onset.

Ashley Bills 03:39
I know that helping folks that are victims of domestic abuse, abuse is really a passion of yours. But you seem to really have a drive to support people that experience all types of abuse. So where does that come from for you?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 03:56
I guess upon graduating, my first thing before I even graduated, I received a job working at a shelter and short staffed, I did multiple roles. I was a Children’s case manager, I was a victims advocate. And then I was also promoted to be the housing supervisor, as well. And so I began to see so many things that I was completely unaware of. I mean, you can go to school to receive education, but the hands-on experience will really tell you where your passion lies. So I began to seek victims of abuse. A lot of them didn’t have a supportive network. A lot of them didn’t even realize that they were victims. So I guess I just decided, hey, I want to help them in any way that I can. And that’s where the passion came from. Because not only were females there we had males who could be victims as well. In our particular shelter we had women and children sell to see small children as small as six months. Oh, women, victims. With no support, I mean, that’s gonna pull at your heartstrings. So I did everything that I could to help them get back to where they needed to be.

Ashley Bills 05:09
Yeah, that’s awesome. Everybody needs Jennifer there. So I know that we can talk probably all day about some of the people in the situations that you met and have experienced about the root causes and why they’re in the situation they’re in or why, why they have this issue or whatever. And but it’s step one in helping a support victim Find a safe space, or what is the first step?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 05:37
Well, the first step is identifying that you are a victim, because some people may say, well, that’s just how that person is, or I didn’t think it was that bad, it’s not bad enough to be abused, you have to first realize that you are a victim. And at that point, you can begin to develop an escape plan to get away from your abuser and find a supportive network that can help you go through the things that you’re going through.

Ashley Bills 06:02
Make sense? So how are you talking back to the shelter? Question: How are our shelter programs typically structured so that people seeking help know that they’re in a safe and secure place?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 06:13
Well, the one that’s in Mississippi in their structure, we have a domestic violence hotline, each shelter covers like our shelter actually closed. But when it was open, we covered 10 counties. So structured, we had a home office, which was typically entailed in there. You would do your assessment and things like that, you would determine whether this was the route that you wanted to take. At that point, all the staff members signed a disclosure stating that they couldn’t. We couldn’t even tell our family members where the shelter was because he was dead serious. So we would transport them to the shelter and the shelter was in an undisclosed location, it had a fence around it. No one knew, like our families didn’t know where to shelter. Others didn’t know where the shelter was. In order to protect the identity of the people, the victims, I actually had a situation. It was a guy that owned a gas station who knew that I was a domestic violence worker. And he tried to pay me to tell him he was an abuser. And his wife was actually at the shelter. And he tried to pay me to tell him where the shelter was. Of course, I mean, it’s a very serious situation. So I couldn’t confirm or deny the situation. But I was just taken aback about someone willing to pay you for this role, something so confidential, you know, I put myself at risk for him, even though I’m what I did. And I would always be so paranoid to make sure that no one was following me because these are people’s lives at stake. You can’t take it lightly. It’s a very serious situation. And it was a safe situation when I first started in Tupelo, Mississippi, and my executive director always told me about one of the abuses: following one of the workers to the shelter, and they actually caused bodily harm to one of the workers and actually took the victim. So when she told me that story, I really realized how important my job was and how confidential I had to be. And I had to realize that people’s lives are being saved. Not only is their life at stake, mine is too because if they follow me, abusers, batters, whatever you want to call them. You don’t know their state of mind, they can be mentally unstable. You have to work like you’re a police officer or the FBI, you have to know like, Hey, make sure nobody is solidifying me here. I can’t speak a word of this or whatever happened at work. That was at work, I was into discussing with my partner, my mom, any family member, because it was just as serious.

Ashley Bills 09:00
Right? Right, that I mean, you just made me feel better. It really helps somebody else. But so there is someone that, you know, even after hearing the story, is reluctant to engage in a program like that, because of security or whatever. How do you help reassure them that it’s okay? I mean, what you just provided, it was pretty powerful. But has there been a situation where you sort of had to convince someone that listen, this is safe, it’s kept secret? It’s private, you know? How have you worked through that situation? Well, as strong as it

Jennifer Craft-Williams 09:35
may sound, you have to have a passion for working with victims. It’s not something that you’re going to do because of the money. It’s not anything that you’re going to do for the title. You have to have a passion for work. And so if someone has to talk to you in it, first of all, that’s not your line of work. It’s like any emergency responder or anyone that has a high risk job, you have to have a passion for doing it. So you have to be tucked into it. That’s not. It’s not for you. So I will just tell anybody to follow your passion. You know, everything’s not for everyone. So you just have to have a passion.

Ashley Bills 10:12
Sure. Absolutely. What about the victims? That? What about convincing them to go to a shelter? Like, how would you do that? If they’re reluctant to go?

Jennifer Craft-Williams 10:23
Well, I’m ready for the domestic violence hotline too and we have a lot of people that say, Well, I don’t want to come in there with all those people. You know, I don’t have these. If he finds me they have so many questions, but my job is to provide them to let them know that they are not alone. It’s first and foremost. The second thing is just to let them know that we’re here to help them, we had a strong presence with the law enforcement, they were aware of where the shelter was. So we had a working relationship with them, we just let them know that we’re here to help you in any way. I mean, we had childcare available counseling for the children because they experienced the abuse as well. So we’re just kind of reassuring them that when you’re ready to take the steps to leave, we’re here to help you in any way that we can. And we kind of help them develop a safety plan or an escape plan is what some people like to call it, just work from it from that angle. And even if they want us to talk to family, they may have a mom that may be scared of our family member, they may be scared for them even though we can disclose the location, we can reassure them, this is the correct step to take. I mean, we I’ve had people, a lady from Honduras, actually was here as she spoke little English at that time, and her husband was American, and she was terrified that she was gonna get recorded because she wasn’t legal. At that time. We reassured there are laws in place to help immigrants that are victims of domestic violence. The young lady in her child was able to come to the shelter, we actually had a legal partner with a domestic violence legal side, and we were able to help her become a legal citizen of the United States. And her child was born here anyway, so they were already citizens. So she benefited from entering the program. And we had a transitional program as well. So the goal was not to just move in the shelter, we help them transition out of the shelter by partnering with different apartment complexes, helping them get a name change, if necessary, whatever we need to do. We help them in any way 40 Male getting a name change becoming legal, whatever you need it we reached out to a provider and got that resource for that victim. That’s a great service. That’s our taking, if you need the services.

Ashley Bills 12:56
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you, Jennifer, for your expertise, and she’s kind of sharing your heart behind the great work you’re doing. So thank you all for listening. Thank you, Jennifer. This has been another episode of Ask and navigation part of the abundant aging podcast series brought to you by United Church homes. If you liked the show, please like, share and subscribe so we can bring you more content like this. You can find us at abundant aging where you can leave us some feedback or some ideas for future episodes. But for more information about the UCH NaviGuide program, please visit And for more information about United Church Homes, please visit We’ll see you next time.