- Associated Press - Saturday, January 30, 2016

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - The series of events that sent Jeff Lingle spiraling into depression began with the premature birth of his son in 2008.

But it was two events in 2010, the loss of his mother to cancer and a devastating injury in a car accident, that sent him over the edge and a divorce in 2011 that helped keep him down.

“You get a place where you do things that would have never been in your character before,” Lingle said.

Those actions landed Lingle in Macon County Circuit Court, where a referral to the county’s four-year-old diversion program for people with mental illness gave him the support system he’d been lacking ever since he moved from his native California to Decatur with his family in 2004.

Lingle, 51, was one of five people who graduated from Mental Health Court Jan. 12, bringing the total number of graduates to 19 since the program began in 2011.

Among the other graduates was Randy “Elroy” Hollgarth, 23.

The court operates with more than $80,000 of its $100,000 annual budget provided by the Macon County Mental Health Board and carries a caseload of about 25 at any given time, signing up one new client Jan. 12.

Circuit Judge R.C. Bollinger also spent the court session praising the progress of eight defendants in various phases of the program, admonishing two about the importance of showing up for court-ordered appointments and treatments and showing up on time and issuing a bench warrant under advisement for one man who failed to appear.

Upon successful completion, defendants have charges against them dismissed, as Bollinger puts it, so they can start over “with a clean slate.”

Other members of the team include specialty courts liaison officer Ralf Pansch, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Bolton, Assistant Public Defender Brian Finney, Macon County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Scheibly, Decatur police Lt. Ed Hurst, court security officer Keith Mullins and Amy Gillen, outpatient therapist at Heritage Behavioral Health Center.

Bruce Angelman, division manager for addictions and criminal justice services at Heritage, said continued participation by former graduates has helped the team create “a culture of recovery.”

On Tuesday 46-year-old Perry Evans, who graduated from Mental Health Court in the spring, was on hand to support the new graduates.

Lingle hopes to do the same and believes he has found his niche in the community volunteering at the Lutheran School Association’s LSA ReSale Shop since last April.

An engineer by training, he enjoys repairing electronic devices, ceiling fans and other small appliances to sell in the shop and hopes to eventually be paid for doing so.

Store manager Judy Gross said she doesn’t know what she’d do without him.

“He’s a big help and a super nice person,” she said. “I feel like God sent him to us.”

Lingle wants to help others through his work at the thrift store as much as he wants to keep helping his peers in Mental Health Court.

“I’m excited and a little scared about graduating,” he admitted. “I’ll miss all the people to talk to and share problems and work on coping skills. It’s a fantastic program that turned my life around.”

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/1Si4Mpn

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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