A Conversation With…Veron Johnson
Veron Johnson joined Hudson in mid-2021 to work with patients, many of whom fight an often-silent battle with mental health which can spur addiction and complicate recovery efforts.
His resume includes serving as a Mental Health Professional Counselor at the Md. Dept. of Health and as a Co-Occurring Mental Health Therapist at Tidal Health. While working, he earned a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from UMES. He’s taught at Sojourner Douglas College, and earlier in his career held posts at the Md. Department of Juvenile Services.
In 2020, Johnson was nominated as one of the Eastern Shores “100 Most Distinguished Men” for his work. Here he shares with us his thoughts about challenges the African American Community faces when it comes to addiction and mental health care.
Q: You joined Hudson in the heart of the pandemic. How has the experience been?
It has been unique. We take all the precautions you can imagine to keep patients and staff safe. All of us are nervous about the pandemic, but we know our services are needed and we have been pushing through in order to provide quality care to our patients.
Q: What mental health challenges are specific for those in recovery?
Some folks come to us having had some therapy, but many more have not and are undiagnosed with very real issues. They keep trying to push those out of the way to treat their addiction, which creates a never-ending cycle. Here we teach that they must learn to treat their whole self if they want to get in and stay in recovery.
Q: How do challenges such as ADHD, depression, anxiety and OCD play into addiction?
Addiction often starts when a person with a mental health issue self-medicates with alcohol, heroin, fentanyl … they experience an increase in dopamine and feelings of euphoria. We need to teach them how to retrain their brain to cope with their mental health issue and stay off illegal drugs. I work closely with Dr. Bautista, our staff psychiatrist, to help a patient explore other medication options that may also help.
Q: What does patient success look like from your chair?
We want patients feeling well and confident when they leave Hudson; to know that they can change. They have been educated about mental health and its connection to recovery. They leave with techniques and coping skills, better ways to handle stress, and knowing how to manage anxiety.
Q: You’re from the Eastern Shore. How does that help you in your job?
I’m originally from Delmar, De., and I have lived in Salisbury as an adult. One thing I do notice specific to African American men – we are often taught to “keep your business in your household.” My goal is to help people of all walks of life feel comfortable to share (in therapy), but I do think that because I look like them as a Black man, that can help them feel more comfortable sharing important information. There are few male therapists here and fewer who are Black.
Q: You have offered workshops at the 3rd Annual African American Boys Conference and other organizations. What is your focus?
Young Black boys need positive role models, and my goal is to show them a Black man who works in mental health and deliver the message that “as an African American male, you are more than enough.” This gives them the opportunity to ask questions about mental health and make it clear that it’s OK to talk about their issues.
Q: Who are your role models?
Growing up my grandfather taught me about work ethic. He’d have me work in gardens and fields, and I was paid for those responsibilities. A little later I worked for an African American female supervisor in Juvenile Services, and she became a role model by showing me not to limit myself. I could work and go to school and accomplish my goals.
What are you still hoping to accomplish?
I want to travel the world! I have thought about going back to school, but I am still considering that, and someday I hope to own my own practice.
Q: Any last words?
I want each individual to know that when you focus on yourself and prioritize your health, you can achieve your goals. And that a positive attitude goes a long way.
Hudson Behavioral Health was formed in 1980 (as Hudson Health Services, Inc.) to bring the first residential recovery program to the Eastern Shore. Today, thousands of patients later, we remain the leader in recovery programs and resources, with our staff of 100 committed to serving each patient as an individual.