Improving Lives Since 1984
By Mary Guardino
Founder and Executive Director of Freedom From Fear

I am often asked how and why I started Freedom From Fear so I want to take this opportunity to share some of the background and the many great things that Freedom From Fear has brought into my life.  I hope you enjoy reading this article and it inspires you to understand the importance of what dedicated people can accomplish to help those suffering from mental illnesses.

I founded Freedom From Fear in 1984. I have learned a great deal about human emotions and how they greatly impact a person's life experiences and destiny.  Thousands of people have shared with me their stories of the pain and suffering caused by mental illnesses.  They shared with me their intimate thoughts and trusted me.  This has made me feel very privileged and has continuously inspired me to be a dedicated advocate for the mentally ill.

Often, as I spoke with people about such things, I would remember how familiar their words were to my own life experiences.  The color of their skin, if they were male or female, rich or poor, made no difference.  The symptoms were always similar, the fears always beyond reason and there was always the hopelessness locked into the brain like a destructive mantra that would not let up.  We were all one, caught in the grip of a mind out of control.

In my case, I can remember it as early as my childhood.  My mind did not react the same as other kid's.  I was fear-sensitive.  The joys and adventures of childhood caused me to experience terrible fears.  When other kids looked forward to class outings to amusement parks, I was petrified.  Roller coasters, "The Spooky House", or anything that bordered on stirring my adrenaline made me become frightened.  I feared dogs, crawling things, and animals in general.  The only pets I was able to tolerate were fish that were locked safely in a tank.  Yet I was gregarious, active, and fun-loving.  What caused me to feel so different from my friends, I often thought?

As I got older, my fears grew like uncontrollable fungus.  Closed places like a movie or a crowded church, and in those days they were crowded, brought on nausea and a faint feeling.  On several occasions, I actually did faint.  Who knew about panic attacks then?  These behaviors were always given other explanations.

At 16, I had what I can now identify as my first super panic attack.  I was sure I was about to die.  Naturally, I survived it, as well as many hundreds that followed through the years.  By the time I was in my twenties my travel was greatly limited because "this thing" would happen to me.  In fact, I had to quit college in the last year because I could no longer get there.  I gave up trains, planes, and tunnels and eventually traveling any distance from my home alone.  The anxiety, panic, and phobias were crippling.  The depression that was their traveling companion made help almost impossible since energy was drained away like a hurricane washing away everything in its path.  My story was so similar to so many others that have shared their secret world with me.

I like to believe it was divine intervention that brought me to the path of recovery.  I shared my secret world of shame with God and prayed that I would be spared from a mental institution.  In a way, I believe it was a miracle since very few people were able to find appropriate treatment and help for this type of illness in 1982.  I was one of the lucky ones.  I was treated successfully with medication and a form of therapy that today is called cognitive-behavioral therapy.  God surely heard my cries for help and guided me to the right place.

In 1984, I began Freedom From Fear as a small support group.  My hope was to provide help and guidance to folks who shared a similar story as mine.  It was to be a weekly program, where self-experience and friendly support could offer help and relief to those suffering from anxiety and depression.  Sounded like a simple, kind, and well-meaning idea to me.  What I did not realize when I launched this venture was although people wanted this, they also wanted a treatment that could give them their lives back.  They wanted what I was fortunate to have found.  I had my work cut out for me.  I needed to find a way.

In 1986 I met a well-known researcher named Donald Klein, M.D. At that time, he was the director of research at the NYS Psychiatric Institute, an internationally recognized force in groundbreaking psychiatric research.  Dr. Klein and his colleagues were light years ahead on the road to understanding the workings of the human mind and the chemicals that regulate our moods and emotions. Surprisingly, there were many in the medical community that still believed mental illness was primarily caused by mishaps in one's nurturing and development.  Klein and his devotees knew better.

In 1986, a research and treatment center for the causes and treatment of anxiety and depressive illnesses was started at Freedom From Fear in Staten Island, New York in collaboration with the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, College of Physicians, and Surgeons.  Medical treatment had arrived and many would reap the benefits.  I would become absorbed by the fascinating and stimulating world of science.  I knew that the organization would go on to accomplish much.

Freedom From Fear Today...

From FFF's humble beginnings, the support and committed efforts from so many friends, colleagues, and those seeking help; have guided and mentored the organization's destiny.  Some of the work done within the organization includes research, public education campaigns, internship programs, anxiety, and depressive illness treatment center, government lobbying efforts and the list can go on and on.  FFF's efforts have reached millions of individuals with the message of hope that treatment works and lives can be saved.

When I look back on my life with Freedom From Fear, I am awed and humbled at the same time.  I understand that much has been accomplished, but I know there will always be much to do.  I often remember what Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist, so simply and beautifully said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

Mary Guardino
Founder/Executive Director
Freedom From Fear

Freedom From Fear Board of Directors
Daniel Deutsch, Ph.D.
Steve Jenkins, Ph.D.

Marty Garfinkle, Ph.D.

Kathleen Garrigan, Esq.

Edith Mandarino
Theresa Mazzeo

James P. Mignone

Rajam Theventhiran, M.D.

Connie Salhany, Ph.D.

Irmgard Borner, M.D.

Eman ElGamal, M.D.

Freedom From Fear Financials

Freedom From Fear


308 Seaview Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10305

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