Compassionate Touch Network dba Breaking the Silence New Mexico was founded by Executive Director Michele Herling in 2011. Within a year, Michele and Desiree Woodland’s paths intersected. They were both focused on mental health and together scripted a curriculum for middle and high school students, which is now known as Talking Mental Health.
Desiree Woodland’s mental health advocacy began in 2007, when she began presenting lessons on mental illness in classrooms around Albuquerque. As a mother and a longtime teacher in Albuquerque schools, she recognized the need for education about mental illness in middle and high school classrooms after the suicide of her 24-year old son Ryan, who had a diagnosed mental illness.
Desiree shares, “My heart breaks open to realize that I was ill-equipped — he was ill-equipped — to understand mental illness. After he died, I began to educate myself and saw the great need to educate youth to make it okay to talk about something that had been hushed up, covered over with shame as if it was the fault of the person who HAD mental illness. It is not a moral weakness or a character flaw but an illness. I have endeavored to be his voice because he didn’t have one, to speak up and give youth the language to engage in dialogue, and remove the shame from mental illness.”
Michele’s mental health advocacy was reflected in her profession as a body therapist where she focused on healing trauma experienced in the body. In 2008, she brought her advocacy work to the stage when she envisioned Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness, monologues written and presented on stage by family members and individuals living with mental illness. She also grew up with a brother who in is pre-teen years faced many behavioral challenges. Michele shares, “As I look back at all my family went through with my brother’s mental illness and traumatic brain injury, it is still a bit overwhelming and shocking to realize that my close-knit, large extended family was in denial about his illness during most of my growing up and then adult years. We adhered to a deafening silence only because we didn’t know any better. I hope these monologues will encourage people to “know better” — and encourage them to begin talking and listening to one another.”