The Art of Recovery: How Medicaid Changed Crystal’s Life

MAR. 15, 2017

By Happy Carlock


Pablo Picasso once said, “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” But for Crystal Littles, it’s more than that: Painting is how she shares her story of living with a mental health condition.

Crystal is a 32-year-old mental health advocate from Arizona who has bipolar disorder. Thanks to Medicaid, she was connected to Art Awakenings, an art therapy program in Arizona funded by the People Service Action Behavioral Health Agency. The program has allowed her to transform her experience with bipolar disorder into artistic beauty.

Crystal is one of the millions of Americans who gained access to mental health services since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010. But the American Health Care Act, Congress’ bill to repeal and replace the ACA, would result in massive cuts to Medicaid. If the bill passes, Medicaid will cover 14 million fewer people and Medicaid spending will be reduced by 25% by 2026, per the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Without Medicaid, people like Crystal will be left uninsured. She went without mental health coverage for years because she made too much to qualify for Medicaid. Her only option was over-the-phone counseling covered by her husband’s insurance. But in February of 2016, she received what she calls the “magic phone call.”

“It was my insurance letting me know I now had access to Medicare and Medicaid,” she told me. “I was through the roof.” Through Medicaid, Crystal gained access to Integrated Care, a nearby clinic where she could receive same-day mental health and physical health care services. Providers at the clinic connected her with Art Awakenings, which has been central to her recovery. Medicaid also covered the cost of Peer Support Specialist training, so she could take her lived experience and help others get the care they need.

Crystal was also connected with NAMI, where she discovered her passion for mental health advocacy. NAMI support groups further inspired her to speak out about her condition. “I was staying inside isolating myself, and I was only on the computer,” Crystal explained. “I realized that slowly over time, the computer can help me get out of my situation as much as it can isolate, so I started writing tweets and showing people this is what mental health really looks like.”

Crystal says that without Medicaid, she probably would not be alive. Now, she is a certified Peer Support Specialist, a NAMI advocate, a talented art therapy participant and a loving mother of her adopted six-year-old son.

“I had someone to turn to, I had people in my corner,” she said. “[Without Medicaid] I probably wouldn’t have adopted my son. But I reached the level of wellness where I could have a family.”

Like Crystal, we all have a voice. We need to use our voices now in the fight to protect Medicaid. It is critical that we stand up and tell Congress what repealing the ACA would mean: the undoing of building blocks that comprise real Americans’ recovery—peer support, art therapy, advocacy and other supports that hold families together.

“Self-advocacy is worth it. The ACA is worth it,” Crystal said. “Because we are worth the investment.”

Tell your Representative to protect Medicaid funding for Americans with mental illness.


MAR, 27, 2017 04:23:31 PM
A single payer health system is the only way to ensure that our most vulnerable populations receive adaquate, humane, care without gaps in coverage.

For people that we may know who are opposed to Obamacare, let them know it is one of the biggest moral issues of our time. By not supporting the ACA and Medicaid at a bare minimum, and by refusing to consider a single payer health system, they may as well tell people like us with severe mental illness to our faces that our lives do not matter to them, at all. By trying to strip Medicaid, our government is basically appealing to those who value money more than human lives, our lives.

Medicaid still does not have the resources it needs to have the type of impact on the lives that need it the most in most cases. It is wonderful that Crystal has had such a positive experience, and while not the norm, her story should be used as a goal to strive towards, for everyone who needs assistance in their road to recovery and wellness.

Congrats Crystal, you're winning! And your little boy is beautiful <3

MAR, 20, 2017 12:52:21 AM
I am so glad the medicaid system worked for Crystal. Can't say it is anything close to that for me. I have fought and fought for help. Seeing a mental health professional requires numerous phone interviews and questionnaires. One "wrong" answer and you start over with months of "qualification" interviews. Her experience is not the norm.

MAR, 16, 2017 04:11:17 PM
Craig Martins
I understand all the budget cuts and such. However, AHCCS made all SMI people here in Maricopa County switch both their Mental Health as well as their Medical coverage to Mercy Maricopa. It was to consolidate and save money. What it did in my case was stop my medical care from staying current and my several health conditions got much worse because of it. When I tried to talk to the people at the agencies concerning it I was told that If I left Mercy Maricopa that I would loose my Disability. Nobody ever mentioned programs that would have benefitted me mentally either. I just get taken advantage of because I am Mentally Ill and they know that nobody will help me.

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