York man fights to break stigmas of mental illness

Matt Bahn has had mental health needs all his life, and thanks to the resources provided by the York County System of Care and York County Human Services Department, he’s been able to live a healthier life.

It was 20 years ago and bath time for a little boy, his mom and dad gently coaxing him toward a tub full of soothing water. It’s the sort of evening many parents live for: a child splashing then squirming into a fluffy towel. Instead, Matt Bahn was writhing and screaming at the top of his lungs – again.

Back then, Glen and Michelle Bahn had no way to understand the problem. They were years away from a diagnosis for their son.

Matt couldn’t yet comprehend the way he was born. He was too young to understand the battle ahead.

The problems escalated as he got older. Matt would change moods quickly in school, cycling from euphoria to intense anger, lashing out physically at times.

The diagnoses came, finally, when Matt was 6: bi-polar disorder; oppositional defiant disorder. Mental illness.

That news meant a regular school setting would be impossible for Matt, even though it doesn’t mean that for all who have mental illness. It meant that, in time, Matt would bounce around to different schools and programs from second to ninth grade. His parents would provide all the support they could.

But Matt kept getting angrier.

“I remember being bitter that I was born the way I was,” the 21-year-old says today. “I was always thinking, it shouldn’t be this way.”

Matt eventually started acting as a creative outlet, but it wasn’t enough. He couldn’t control the aggression, and after lashing out again in high school he found himself one step away from going into the juvenile justice system.

“That was my rock bottom,” he says. “I needed somewhere to go. I needed to start listening and trying harder.”

There is no shame

Michelle Hovis knows that nearly one in five people may have some form of mental health need. The York County Human Services Department director has seen it locally firsthand through clients like Matt – and countless others.

That’s why during Mental Health Awareness Month in May, it’s important to understand all the resources the county provides. From crisis intervention services to outpatient counseling, there are a wide array of services available through the System of Care York County partnership.

You just have to take that first step.

“The big thing is just to reach out in whatever way feels most comfortable to you,” Hovis says. “There’s no shame for anyone in needing to talk to someone.”

‘A whole new person’

For Matt, the answer was a local residential treatment center. Something clicked. There, he was at last able to start applying the lessons he’d been shown when he was younger, channeling his emotions in a more healthy and productive way.

He would go on to graduate from Central York High School with honors in 2015, and then head to Wilson College in Chambersburg to study equine therapy and psychology. But more important, perhaps, he came out with a purpose, with a clarity of thought he’d previously never known.

“I left the treatment center a whole new person,” he says, “because I came to believe that I was born this way so that I could help others.”

The journey continues

College took a toll on Matt. He left after two years, recognizing quickly the old signs of depression, those that too often led to suicidal thoughts, then to anger and rage. Understand: mental illness never really goes away.

But today, the Springettsbury Township resident’s focus is on hope.

“I want anyone suffering to know that this may be a chronic disorder, but it’s not a death sentence,” he says. “You can get through it.”

Matt’s getting through it, day by day. And before long, he’ll be back in school.

He’s going to study theater.

One day, soon, the self-described “limelight bug” will again take center stage. He’ll relive that same excitement he loved as a kid, pretending for a time to be something he’s not.

The bigger thrills will come offstage, though — for a young man who’s learning to be comfortable with exactly who he is.

Story paid for by York County Human Services through a System of Care grant

Visit: York County Human Services website
100 W. Market St. # 401 York, PA 17401

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