Pupilla, 53, is homeless and is staying at Waikiki Health’s Next Step Shelter until he can find permanent housing, which he hopes will be soon. The Long Island, New York, native comes from an affluent background and was well-adjusted until he was 17.
“Then I began to hear voices, but I learned to cope with it. But when I’d encounter high-stress situations after joining the military in 1986, those voices would come back.
“I wasn’t honest with the doctors about it and tried to handle it on my own, and that became a dead end.”
It’s been a long journey to recovery, Pupilla says. The former military medic says he served hard time in prison, tried to commit suicide multiple times and was dishonorably discharged – all due to being undiagnosed with a mental illness for years. He’s been chronically homeless and in and out of institutions. He was finally diagnosed in 2010 with schizoaffective disorder and acute anxiety and depression.
After a huge fight with his brother just before Christmas 2017, Pupilla says he was “forced” to come to Hawaii, and within weeks friends hooked him up with United Self-Help.
“When we get new people, we first try to get them into a group,” explains Bud Bowles, 70, USH executive director. “Then we talk, put them on the mailing list, then try to get them involved in our activities. I give them small jobs in the office or get them to lead classes to build up their confidence.
“They get better because they’ve got some- thing to do. We give them hope.”
The nonprofit has 16 consumer-run programs, says Bowles, a former advertising agency owner who’s been diagnosed with depression. “We’ve got our Bridges class. We have a self-esteem class. We’ve got a writers group, a schizophrenia group and a depression/ bipolar group. We have tennis and golf classes. We peer-mentor prisoners and others in support groups.”
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