John M

John Malm joined the U.S. Navy in 1964 after dropping out of high school during his junior year. Like most kids his age, he wanted to see the world. He signed on to be a communications technician and once handled classified intelligence during the time when the Vietnam War was ready to explode.

Two and a half years later, while in the Philippines, the Madison native went AWOL for 10 days, and began using substances. After being apprehended, John received a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a serious mental illness that can result in hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. He was promptly discharged.

John’s recovery story is like a winding road with twists and turns, but with Journey Mental Health Center’s help, John hasn’t had a psychiatric hospitalization since 1990 – nearly 28 years ago.

In 1969, John began receiving services from the Dane County Mental Health Center – today known as Journey Mental Health Center. The 71 year old has lived in at least four states over his life, spending time in Wisconsin, Florida, California, and Louisiana, according to Journey caseworker, Eric Schechter, LCSW.

John received treatment both as an outpatient and as an inpatient after moving to Louisiana. He’s also been an on-again, off-against substance user, not an uncommon characteristic among people living with mental illness. Yet John also has completed one year’s worth of college courses and has held jobs as a bar manager, groundskeeper, and grocery store clerk.

After John moved back to Madison in the mid-1970s, he re-engaged with Journey in his recovery efforts and, in 1981, started working at Chrysalis and was actively involved in the early years of the Off The Square Club. John claims to be the one who coined the organization’s name, calling it a simple yet eloquent namesake for a resource center. The club helps individuals living with mental illness by offering hot meals, recovery support and crisis intervention services using peer support specialists.

In 1988 John met Dr. Fred Coleman, a long-time Journey psychiatrist, and became an active member at Yahara House by ritually attending meetings and volunteering for 27 years. In 2004 he was referred to Journey’s Mobile Outreach to Seniors Team, the program that merged into Journey’s Forward Solutions Community Support Program.

Today, John lives at Kindred Hearts Senior Living in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. He says his best friend is his Journey caseworker, Eric, who assists him with transportation to his appointments. The pair love going out for cheeseburgers and simply talking. They reminisce about John’s hobby as a photographer, and his photos of iconic downtown State Street in Madison. In fact, Eric marvels how he saw a college friend playing music in one of John’s old photos.

Eric’s support of John is unwavering. “What are you most proud of John?” Eric asks John with a smile. John returns the smile, but doesn’t say anything because he sometimes has difficulty communicating his thoughts.

John, left, with his case worker Eric

In addition to not being hospitalized since 1990, John has been drug-free for seven years now … that’s a pretty big accomplishment … isn’t it John?” Eric said. John smiles proudly.