More Than Just a Place to Drop In: A Community Mental Health Center Creates a Dynamic Environment for People with Mental Illness to Learn Life Skills and Have Fun

By Metcalfe, Melissa | Behavioral Healthcare, November 2007 | Go to article overview

More Than Just a Place to Drop In: A Community Mental Health Center Creates a Dynamic Environment for People with Mental Illness to Learn Life Skills and Have Fun


Metcalfe, Melissa, Behavioral Healthcare


Reduced funding and restrictions imposed by managed care are forcing nonprofit community mental health agencies to reassess their programs, and in some situations this reevaluation is an opportunity for improving treatment. At Suncoast Center for Community Mental Health, Inc., in St. Petersburg, Florida, the new Wellness and Recovery Center changes an old model of day care and support to a dynamic system involving clients in their own recovery and finding ways to help them function at their highest level. Suncoast Center is turning "as good as it gets" into "as good as it can be."

Until recently Suncoast Center operated an adult Drop-In Center, providing a place where adults diagnosed with mental illnesses could spend time, eat lunch, and perhaps play pool. Yet Renee Kilroy, the agency's clinical services director, notes that over the years the Drop-In Center had become a hangout where there was "not a real incentive to get involved. Too many people were just smoking and watching TV. That's not a healthy environment." So the program was moved to a new, refurbished location and the entire focus changed. Instead of having lunch on-site, for example, clients are taught how to go into the community and buy lunch in a "normal" setting.

Clients at the Wellness and Recovery Center now participate in a wide range of activities, and some have been hired as peer counselors to run groups assisting others. The Wellness and Recovery Center is open to anyone over 18 years old recovering from a mental illness. It is a client-driven, client-supported program actively promoting recovery and resiliency by helping participants learn how to manage their daily lives, deal with their illness, and be involved in the community and even "give back" to it.

Libby Hopkins, coordinator of the Wellness and Recovery Center, says that the program's most important element is the combination of a strong treatment focus with the attitude that keeps it going: being positive about recovery. As part of eliminating the stigma of mental illness, group sessions may be run by a staff member or one of the six peer coaches--everyone is together in the recovery effort. She says recognizing that recovery is a process is essential in order to "provide an environment that is positive and stimulating so that the healing process commences" when an individual arrives. "Even for the people who are most debilitated," Hopkins explains, "that positive environment is critical to their healing."

In addition to Hopkins and the peer coaches, the Wellness and Recovery Center's staff includes counselor Mike Leggat; one full-time and one half-time employment specialists to help participants find full-time, part-time, or volunteer employment, according to their abilities; a supportive housing specialist assisting clients in finding or keeping places to live; and full-time and half-time community integration specialists.

The schedule for group sessions fluctuates as needed, and most groups meet in the morning (the clients' preference). There are 50 active participants, with daily attendance at about 20. The Wellness and Recovery Center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Hopkins says the schedule can change to include Sundays during football season if people want to watch games together in a healthy environment.

The groups cover a wide spectrum of individual interests and needs, such as:

* Anger management

* Arts and crafts

* Basic aerobics

* Individual life planning

* Life coaching

* Life skills

* Meditation and relaxation

* Men's issues

* Music

* Overcoming adversity

* Self-esteem

* Socialization

* Stress management

* Wellness and weight loss (which includes group walks)

* Women's issues

* Values clarification

Groups closely addressing clients' illnesses include sessions on schizophrenia, mental illness education, recovery considerations, and depression. …

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