Bringing Changes for the Better regarding Mental Health Stigmas

By Danielle Bishop (Board Member and Counselor)

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

May marks Mental Health Awareness month, when communities, organizations, and other affiliates partner in raising attentiveness to mental health. Usually, when the word health is used, most think of only the physical aspects this word encompasses. Mental health is just as imperative to maintain as our physical health because it affects all facets of our daily routine. This stresses the importance of seeing the whole person so that we are addressing minds and bodies rather than trying to pinpoint only one health to focus upon. According to a Harris Poll (2023), three-quarters of adults believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. However, the issue lies where many people do not know how or do not converse on the topic of mental health. That contributes to stigmas forming. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, one out of every five people are affected by mental health issues and, when combined with stigma, it influences these individuals from seeking help. This is elaborated upon in the Harris Poll that only one in ten people regularly sees a mental health professional. Therefore, deterrence of treatment usually occurs when the environment may contain shame, fear, and silence. This perception of mental illness can change, where you can help by:

  • Identifying and reducing any stigmas you may have
  • Educating yourself and others in the community
  • Finding appropriate ways to help advocate for these individuals
  • Providing support by volunteering and by knowing about resources available
  • Sharing your experiences
  • Engaging in your own self-care

Although some might seem small, little changes over time can create significant gains for your and others’ overall health and wellbeing. Stigma can be reversed by compassion, empathy, and understanding. Remember, sometimes the uncomfortable or unknown topics are what need to be discussed in order to address them and spark the change. Let’s start learning and talking.

“Priceless” Survivor Poem

At our most recent “Priceless” movie screening, our board member and survivor Maribeth shared a poem about her experience. We got her permission to share it here as well. May it encourage and inspire you. Helping survivors find courage, healing and restoration is why organizations like Restoring Oaks exists. Thank you, Maribeth for your courage!

Priceless: by Maribeth

My life was shattered into so many pieces
that seemed impossible to gather.
I was blind to any help
and just kept experiencing more pain.
I traveled deeper into the abyss of drugs and abuse.
My body no longer belonged to me
but instead to my worst enemy.
It was easier to give into the world of body compromisation
then to escape it.
I saw no light at all and just continued to fall.
Without my knowledge there was a power much bigger than me
guiding me back to life and out of death.

This power of prayer gave me the ability to start my climb
out of the abyss until it eventually didn’t exist.
I finally grabbed onto the rope that God had provided
and was able to finally attack that life like Giant.
I no longer had to use to escape my pain
and my body no longer had to be a slave to Men who desired it.
I realized my body is not for sale
and worth more money than could ever be given.
I am a precious child of God bought by the biggest Price ever
given the offer of Jesus Christ life that was given up for me.
Christ paid the ultimate price for me and now I am truly priceless
and so are you!

5 ways to protect from & 5 ways to combat human trafficking

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. We wanted to share 5 ways that teens can protect themselves from human trafficking and 5 ways that adults can combat human trafficking. You can also download these and share.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Human Trafficking (specifically directed for teens)

  • Keep your personal information private. Never share your home address or phone number with people you don’t know online or in person.
  • There is safety in numbers. Never go somewhere or meet someone by yourself.
  • Love does not hurt. Abuse or being forced to do something you do not want to do is not a healthy relationship. Safely get out.
  • Always let your parents or a trusted adult know where and who you are hanging out with in case of an emergency.
  • Talk to a counselor or adult that you trust if you think you’ve been abused or trafficked.

5 Ways to Combat Human Trafficking (written specifically for adults)

  • If you are a parent/guardian, teach and show those under your care how to respect all life and how to protect themselves.
  • Keep watch for potential abusive or trafficking situations and take appropriate action or contact local authorities.
  • Live a life of integrity that says no to pornography and transactional sex.
  • Invest in the teens and young adults in your community by coaching, mentoring, listening, and learning.
  • Educate yourself and volunteer raising awareness to abuse, trafficking and other community corrupting tragedies.

See Something. Say Something.

Human Trafficking: When a person is forced, deceived, or enslaved into work or favors for someone else.

If you think you or someone you know may be in an abusive or vulnerable situation, speak up.

Call 911 or contact the Human Trafficking Hotline:

Call 888-373-7888 | Text 233733

The Lost Art of Listening

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend, family member, or colleague where you thought they heard you, but quickly discovered they weren’t listening? They either ask you a question that you had already answered, or they misunderstand or make assumptions of what they thought you said. A major concern of marriages today is lack of communication. Thanks to excessive distractions and screens always at the ready, attention spans are getting less and less, and relationships are getting shallow and often frustrating. With the rise of social media, open source forums, a narcissistic culture and moral fluidity, it seems that listening has become a lost art. It is easy to listen when we agree but not when we disagree. It is easy to listen when the listening is “easy” but inconvenient when somebody’s “skeletons” arrive. Friendships are shallow. Conversations are short. Lives are endangered and even lost with “close friends having no idea why”. It is essential, now more than ever, to ignite the lost art of listening. The remaining content will use a few unique sources to inspire the desire to listen and why this matters. 

Lessons From a Rabbit

As our son was growing up, we received kids books from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which was a great way to get new books on a monthly basis to read to him. Some he liked, others he didn’t. One in particular stuck with me. It was called “The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld. If you have not read this story, I highly recommend both for your kids, and for yourself. Because I personally am not a fan of spoilers without proper warning…here’s a quick disclaimer. 


You’ve been warned. “The Rabbit Listened” tells the story of Taylor, a young boy who is excited to build something special. He begins to build, but before long it gets knocked down by the flock of birds. Taylor is understandably upset. Taylor is met by several animals who notice his plight and want to help him fix it… They recommend talking, laughing, hiding, shouting, knocking down someone else’s, rebuilding, among others. But none of these interest Taylor. He silently refuses their help. The animals then leave one by one, upset that Taylor didn’t allow them to help. Eventually, Taylor is alone again until a rabbit comes. The rabbit silently comes next to Taylor and sits. No recommendations. No questions. Its presence was all it offered. And that was all that Taylor needed. As the rabbit went to hop away, Taylor broke his silence: “please stay with me”. And then the words “the rabbit listened”. Taylor talked, laughed, hid, shouted, talked about ruining someone else’s, and eventually about rebuilding again. Through it all…the rabbit listened. No replies. No judgements. No assumptions. No words at all. At the end of the story, Taylor was ready to rebuild again, a creation even better than the one he had built before. 

What a beautiful story of the difference between what we think people need and what they actually need. Too often when someone faces a crisis, the default is to try to fix. But the fixing is often suggested on our terms and in our timing. And if things do not happen on our terms and in our timing, we lose interest or get frustrated. Especially at the start of a crisis, or a trauma, the person is not looking for a fix. They may not have the words to say, or the desire to “build again” right away. All they may want at that moment is someone to listen. Not with the intent to reply or fix, but with the intent to understand. 

This can be especially true when working with trauma. People who suffer trauma often go through shock, repression, or even dissociation as a means of survival. This leads to them not being able to put into words what has happened to them, only remembering fragments, having nightmares or terrors that bring them right back to the trauma even if it was years ago, or shutting down/acting out. These symptoms are often treated through medication or other fixes without the necessary first step of listening on their terms. Trauma may take years to resolve and will come with setbacks or relapses, especially if vices were used to cope with the pain of the trauma. These can be frustrating to those on the outside, but ultimately the healing of the person has to be on their terms and in their timing. And oftentimes, it starts with a listening ear. Not with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand. Not with the intent to “fix”, but with the intent to learn. Larry King said it well: “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Listening to More Than Words

Have you ever played the game of “Telephone”? A group sits in a circle and the first person in the circle is given a word or phrase. They have to whisper the phrase in the next person’s ear and this continues clockwise until the last person in the circle hears the message. Rarely is the final word or phrase the same as the first. People often hear but do they really listen? Does it go in one ear and out the other, or does the person try to understand what is being said? Listening is more than hearing the words someone says. Take the word “fine” for example. Depending on the context, the demeanor, the inflection, and even the person speaking, the word “fine” can mean completely different, opposite things. Many spouses have gotten in trouble by misunderstanding the word “fine”. This is why text, social media, email and other digital mediums can be such troubling waters. 

A trained listener will listen to all parts of the message. The words, the inflection, the demeanor, the person, the context, the culture, and the emotion (or lack thereof). And they will listen until they understand. When someone experiences trauma, they must trust the person they are speaking with in order to confide in them. Their trust has been broken sometimes by people who were closest to them and should have been their protectors. The type of trauma can lead to fragments of the events that take months or years to piece together. It is crucial for the listener to allow the speaker to take all the time that they need, and not simply take out the pieces that seem important to them. 

In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk shares about one of his first experiences working in a facility that treated people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He would listen to the patients tell their stories in the evenings and then hear the doctors rounds in the mornings. 

During morning rounds the young doctors presented their cases to the supervisors, a ritual that the ward attendees were allowed to observe in silence. They rarely mentioned the stories like I’d heard. However, many later studies confirmed the relevance of these midnight confessions….I was often surprised by the dispassionate way patients’ symptoms were discussed and by how much time was spent on how to manage their suicidal thoughts and self-destructive behaviors, rather than understanding the possible causes of their despair and helplessness.

It can be easy to focus on what we want to hear, what we think they need to hear, or even fixing the symptoms. If this thought process isn’t checked and balanced, we can easily resort to canned responses that “usually work” and miss out on the uniqueness of the individual, including what they excel at, enjoy, or who they are.. Dr. Van Der Kolk later says: 

I was also struck by how little attention was paid to their accomplishments and aspirations; whom they cared for, loved or hated; what motivated and engaged them, what kept them stuck and what made them feel at peace – the ecology of their lives…I remember asking [my great teacher, Elvin Semrad] once: “What would you call this patient – schizophrenic or schizoaffective?” He paused and stroked his chin, apparently in deep thought. “I’d call him Michael McIntyre,” he replied. 

Whether in a professional setting, a friendship or guardian setting, it is often easier and “less messy” to treat the symptoms/behaviors of a person. It is also easy to see the things that are wrong with the person. It is vital to balance the bad in someone’s life with the good. Celebrate their passions and help them through their pains. Discover their pursuits. Give them something to live for. Help them see themselves for who they are meant to be, not focus on the things they are at that moment. Someone who has experienced trauma must often relearn that they are loved, they are valued, and that they have purpose. They need the time, empathy, and opportunity to do so. 


In James 1:19, we are told to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”. Dean Jackson says “listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” 

  • May we reclaim the lost art of listening. 
  • May we, like the rabbit, simply offer our presence and a listening ear. 
  • May we listen with the intent to understand not with the intent to answer or “fix”. Ultimately, it is not our job to “fix” anyone. God does the healing. 
  • It has to be up to the person we are with to want the healing and restoration. In their timing. May we exercise empathy, patience and love, no matter how long it takes. 

What’s in a name – Why “Restoring Oaks”

What does “Restoring Oaks” have to do with a nonprofit organization fighting human trafficking?

Welcome to our blog! We invite you to join our community alliance in sharing information to keep each other safe from human trafficking, stop the supply and demand, and be the change that we wish to see in our community!

As we have shared about our organization, we have been asked “What does Restoring Oaks mean? Are you about saving trees?” Well yes, we are “about saving trees” and are encouraging smart choices that go beyond our main objective such as biodegradable products, finding ways to plant more trees, and eliminating deforestation where possible. These are not our primary objectives and this is not what “Restoring Oaks” means. This name was picked intentionally to be visual and meaningful. There are three inspirations for Restoring Oaks.

I. Isaiah 61:1-3

The name “Restoring Oaks” is ultimately inspired by a passage of Scripture that serves as our inspiration. The passage reads as follows (bold added).

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of joy

instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

a planting of the Lord

for the display of His splendor.

Those who have been subject to the evil of human trafficking have had their innocence stolen, their value itemized and tarnished, and their freedom stripped. We believe that it is up to us to take a stand and to be a voice. Human Trafficking is a $150 billion industry that has affected 40 million around the world, It is wide armed network that shows no regard for the individuals, families, and communities that it affects. We believe that this passage compells us to action so that the survivors can be restored to the strong, deep rooted oaks of righteousness that they are meant to be.

II. The Imagery and Beauty of Oaks

There are few trees that are as majestic, useful, and deeply rooted as an Oak tree. It can withstand the toughest storms, provide shelter and essentials for many species of animals, and inspire awe for all who take the time to look. And yet, like all other plants, it starts with a seed, that turns into a sprout, that grows into the beautiful trees that grow native in our home state of Florida and around the world.

We believe this is a beautiful visual of what survivors of human trafficking can be if given the proper care, love, and restoration. Survivors of human trafficking are not victims. They are known to be some of the strongest young men and women who become essential “oaks” in their communities and often jump in to rescue others who have been trafficked. We believe that through education and advocacy we can train up communities to help stop the supply and demand of human trafficking in hopes of cutting off the source. We also believe that each person who is rescued can be restored, by showing them love without limits or expectations, showing them their true value through how we treat them, and giving them deep roots of confidence, faith, trust, and hope. The goal of Restoring Oaks is to help restore the value and purpose each person deserves. This is not about us. It is about them.

III. A great name for our Safe House

If we’re being completely honest, “Restoring Oaks” just sounds like a great name for a safe house. It sounds rustic and it invokes power, hope and inspiration. We hope to open our first safe house for minor survivors within next 5 years. This will expand as long and as wide as possible. We hope to “restore many oaks” across Florida, the United States and the world.

As we continue in our research, education, advocacy, and community engagement, we hope to use this blog, our videos, webinars, and upcoming events to empower a community alliance to fight human trafficking.

Will you join the fight? Don’t forget to join our newsletter to get the latest on upcoming events, latest news and company updates!