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'Our purpose is to serve our fellow human being,' News5 Jefferson Award winner helps those with mood disorders

Karen Fallahi
Posted at 5:26 PM, May 30, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Every week a group of about a dozen senior citizens begins their meeting in downtown Colorado Springs with the Depression and Support Alliance Colorado Springs with a friendly reminder that this space is a place to feel safe and supported.

They are part of the senior support group that meets every Wednesday. This local chapter of the national non-profit was founded by Karen Fallahi 30 years ago. The idea began within days of her son's death in 1993. She quickly called a public meeting to draw attention to his illness.

"To draw attention to manic depressive illness, to tell the story of this young man, and to make it so that information would be accessible to those in our community who don't know where to turn or what to do," said Fallahi.

Her son, Erik, died at just 25 years old. He had been diagnosed five years earlier with bipolar two disorder, formerly known as manic depression. She says the first signs started in high school.

Erik Fallahi

"He was a senior in high school when I begin to see him in withdrawal, little periods of depression, that sort of thing," Fallahi said. "There were indicators that something was going on. I told his dad, 'I really think it's good idea to take him in and to see a doctor see a therapist.'"

Two days before he died she says she had a feeling his depression was worsening.

"I was out on a Saturday and I was with a good friend, her name was Charlotte, and I said, 'Charlotte, I'm losing him. I said if his pain is so great, and it's necessary, I'm willing to give him back to God.' He died that weekend."

Fallahi and her husband found their son lying on his side on the floor of his home.

"My first words were, 'Well, sweet son, you're on your way.'"

Fallahi says the coroner's report said Erik's cause of death was undetermined.

"(The report showed) nothing in his system that would have taken him," said Fallahi. "The way I look at it is, we're all here for a reason, some of us leave sooner, some of us later, and apparently, his assignment (was) he'd done what he had to do, and then left this world. And this was the gift he gave us."

Erik Fallahi

That gift she says has been the network of 11 support groups she's created with DBSA Colorado Springs.

Bill Wallace is part of one of those groups, the senior support group.

"Here's where I can release, I can cry here, and I know that everybody knows how I feel they've been there," Wallace said.

Wallace says he would be lost without this support group.

"I don't have anybody but this group that I can trust 100% with my true secrets, and what's really hurting me," Wallace said. "Only here."

Forty-year-old J.D. Venable met Fallahi when he was a 17-year-old patient at Cedar Springs hospital in Colorado Springs.

"I live with bipolar one disorder and I was just diagnosed and still didn't believe all that was going on, but Karen came and introduced me to the support groups," Venable said. "I thought, 'Talk to some people that are going through similar things.'"

DBSA volunteers often showed up in person at behavioral health hospitals to help patients know there was support when they got out.

Venable says he spent several months in the groups and stopped coming. He later tried to take his life.

"Then Karen came again and I remember that was a good thing," said Venable. "So I got involved, I started volunteering. They were so kind, they even made a paid position for me and I got up on my feet. Now I'm supporting myself and have a wife and a baby on the way. So it's completely changed my life."

A life-changing support system created by a mom determined to help others like her son struggling to find hope.

"I think our purpose is to be here and serve our fellow human being," Fallahi said.

That's exactly why Karen Fallahi is the winner of the News 5 Jefferson Award.

Karen Fallahi

If you or someone you know is deserving of the News 5 Jefferson Award we want to know about it. Click here to submit your nomination.

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