The Purpose of a Drop-In Center
A Drop-In Center provides a safe, supportive and normalizing environment for Individuals labeled "mentally III" in the community, especially those who are isolated in society, rejecting participation in CMH programs, and to whom even sheltered employment settings are not meeting their needs. It provides an atmosphere of acceptance where individuals feel needed and grow in self-worth, dignity and self-respect.
The drop-in increases knowledge of community resources, allows individuals to learn from one another, and provides a place where social and recreational activities can occur. This enables individuals with severe emotional difficulties to conquer social or communication problems and assume productive life-styles in community settings. A drop-in provides social support for high-risk hospital users with organized and informal recreational and social activities where individuals and center staff can assist each other in solving dally living problems (social/recreational, housing, transportation, and vocational). The drop-in places emphasis on helping Individuals feel autonomous and make decisions. Individuals have something to offer each other and by helping run the center and supporting each other, they develop a sense of usefulness, increase their feelings of well-being, and minimize their risk of hospitalization.
A drop-in is simply a place to be. Where else but a drop-in can an individual go to just be, where no one passes judgment diagnoses or medicates. Where else can an individual find support compassion, self-esteem and acceptance? The drop-in cannot "save the world." The drop-in can provide life. The drop-in is a place to go to be alive.
Understanding and Support
At the Center Individuals are able to interact with others who have shared similar experiences, such as hospitalizations, medications, doctors, therapies, etc. Understanding the pain and suffering of mental health problems is shared. A powerful support system is built that helps individuals through painful times. One of the main reasons people come to the Center is this support. Individuals find that discouragement, fear, rage, pain, and anxiety are all natural human emotions, and not unique to them because of their diagnosis. They realize that their hopes, dreams, fears and pain, are no different than those of others. This realization helps individuals feel less alone, different, "crazy" or afraid.
Each center member makes his/her own decision about when to come to the Center, when to leave, with whom to interact, what to talk about, whether to watch TV, etc. Although these decisions appear minor to outsiders, many individuals have experienced having all their decisions made for them in the mental health system; when to eat, when to sleep, when to play games. As members learn to make their own decisions about their basic needs: housing, food, clothing, etc. they are able to take control of their lives.
Stigma according to the Webster's Dictionary is the "mark of disgrace." Stigma is the fear of someone finding out that you are "crazy". Stigma is the fear of others who fear you are dangerous. Stigma is the judgments of others that you need to be locked up. Stigma is others who see you as incapable and sick. Stigma is a family that disowns you. Stigma is a society that wants to keep you hidden away. Stigma is a society that rejects you. Mental health consumers experience this stigma in the community every day. At the Drop-In, this stigma is eliminated through acceptance. With this acceptance, individuals with emotional and mental health problems change their view of themselves. As they are accepted by others, they learn to accept themselves and even like themselves. The judgmental attitudes of society are absent at the center because everyone has been in a similar place or shared a similar experience. At the Center there is no shame in being a person with mental or emotional problems.
Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
As members are accepted by their peers, they learn to accept themselves. Self acceptance results in the growth of self-confidence and self-esteem. At the Center they learn that they can succeed. With each success, self-confidence grows. With the new experiences, support and faith the center provides, people learn to believe in themselves.
Motivation increases by visiting the drop-In. Motivation to take care of oneself, and better one's life is lost in the mental health system. Through consistent submission to "caretakers", individuals suffering emotional and mental health problems are discouraged. Individuals are taught that they are not capable, that others know what is best for them and that they can't trust their own thoughts and feelings.
At the center, personal motivation and strength return. Individuals learn that they can be capable of taking care of themselves, their lives, and most importantly that they can "think" for themselves. Individuals learn to do for themselves, find hope in their future and encouragement in their struggle.
There is a sense of family at the center. Although all consumers have different backgrounds, a sense of family is often missing in their lives. The strength of a family network, the belonging and a quiet concern for each other develops at the Center. Along with the sense of family, comes the sense of home. Many consumers come to the Center because it is like "home" to them, It is a place that is familiar, predictable, and safe. There are always others at the Center who are, share their lives, and understand.
With this "family", the support in one's life is found. The Center is a place of both stabilization and growth because of the family-like atmosphere. Individuals come to the Center to share their lives. Even people who have been away from the Center for awhile always know that they can come "home" to share their successes and their challenges, nowhere can Individuals find this same unconditional acceptance and support that the Center provides.
Individuals suffering with mental health problems tolerate much abuse, discrimination and prejudice from society. These issues must be addressed at both a societal and personal level. It is growth-producing and therapeutic when individuals stand up and defend themselves and others. Shame erodes, and In Its place blossoms a new proud person unashamed of their life. Since the Center is a safe place, individuals are able to voice their opinions, ideas, sufferings and dreams. They learn that what they have to say Is important that people care and want to hear. Through this experience individuals realize that their voices can be used to make a better life for themselves and others.
A sense of empowerment is a result of standing up for one's rights and beliefs. Consumers lose many of their rights in the chaos of the mental health system. Empowerment is the rebirth of one's sense of rights, beliefs, and Ideas. Empowerment is learning to take control of one's life. Empowerment is pride in ourselves and where we have been. Empowerment is doing for yourself and allowing others to do for themselves. Empowerment is not giving up; it’s facing each day with all its trials and knowing that you have made It through another day. Empowerment is learning of the extraordinary strength we have within us that has brought us through our pain.
In a sometimes indifferent world, people find the courage at the Center, to believe that they are important and make a difference. Individuals also learn to appreciate the strength within them that has brought them through the pain in their lives.
The expectation at the Center Is that people just be themselves. Individuals are not forced into participating in any "programs" or treatments; they are not referred to or limited by their diagnosis. People are not seen as "mentally III" at the Center. They learn about their own identity and expand their sense of who they are.
Education and Knowledge
Individuals bring a wide range of resources to the Center, including: information, referrals, sharing, interacting, role modeling, survival skills, personal experiences, activities, new behaviors, and learning how to handle difficult emotions. At the center individuals can interact informally and share this knowledge. Individuals share information on local resources such as food bank or housing, but they also share the information, knowledge and experiences of the mental health system and how it has affected their lives.
At the center, people choose their own interests, grow at their own pace, and accomplish their own goals. As one is educated though interaction and experience, the individual grows naturally. People then use their newly acquired knowledge in their personal lives and in the community.
Drop-In Centers are places where consumers can be honest with themselves and others. The safety of the Center allows individuals to drop the protective shields needed in the outside world and be honest with themselves about their feelings, capabilities and pain. At the Drop-In there is no need to hide who we are. Individuals confronting crisis in their lives must be able to express themselves without fear of punishment.
The Center creates a safe environment through acceptance. At the Center no one passes judgment, diagnoses, medicates or hospitalizes. No one at the Center is seen as sick or chronic. Individuals are not feared or shunned by others. Individuals don't need to hide who they are. Individuals will not be thrown out for talking to themselves or for acting "funny". Only at the Center can individuals find the safe acceptance to be themselves. The center's safe environment allows many positive interactions to take place. Individuals find inner security, relief and hope. All individuals need a safe place in their lives, often the only safe place for consumers is the Center.
Expressing and dealing with feelings is often difficult. The Center gives individuals a safe outlet to express feelings. Expressions of anger and pain are allowed, individuals know the Center is safe and they will not be punished or discriminated against because they are expressive. The Center is a place to talk, compare, analyze, and attempt to understand ones feelings. Many times consumers feel that they will be reprimanded or punished if they criticize the services they receive or locked up if they express how they feel. At the Center they are free to express themselves without fear.
The Center is a place to learn new way of living. It is a place where one can experience role models of healthy behavior, social skills and interactions. At the center, new and healthy ways of growth take place. Role modeling is being an example to others, an example of success, of taking care of oneself, of acceptance and even of failure. Individuals need healthy models of people like themselves to gauge themselves against. At the Center individuals see others facing life's challenges and through that learn to face the challenges in their own lives.
Responsibility means taking responsibility for one's self and their recovery. Learning to be responsible for one's own health, welfare, behavior and feelings, is encouraged at the center. Responsibility is taking control of one's life, not blaming your life on others.
The center is a place of encouragement. The fact that the Center exists and is set-up solely for mental health consumers is encouraging. It encourages someone who is often isolated in the community that there is hope because there is a safe place to go and belong. At the center other consumers offer encouragement in many shapes and forms - It might be through friendliness, social interactions, or simply a person who is willing to listen.
Most of all individuals are encouraged to try and to grow. Individuals are encouraged to be themselves and to be proud of who they are.
Humor, Fun and Entertainment
Many people’s lives have been so traumatizing and painful that it is all that they know. They have lost their ability to have fun and enjoy themselves. The center is a place where individuals are able to enjoy themselves and have fun. The ability to enjoy oneself for even a short time can drastically change one's life and give individuals the will to endure future pain. Humor gives people a reprieve from their pain. Individuals cannot survive with only pain in their lives, they must have humor and Joy. The Center is a place for people to go to experience happiness.
The Center is a place where Individuals can make choices. Consumers often feel that "others" know what is best for them and that the only decisions they can make are "bad decisions". Individuals who first begin using the center often ask permission to go for a walk, to eat their lunch and even to use the bathroom.
The Center is a place where Individuals learn to make choices in their lives. Decision making skills are developed through making choices. Practicing new choices is accepted and encouraged at the Center. At the Center Individuals have the choice of planning their own schedules, activities, and friends. As Individuals learn to make choices they learn to take control of their lives.
At the Center, individuals learn to create and initiate new ways of solving old problems. Individuals receive assistance learning problem-solving skills both by example and by direct assistance. Often a problem seems so overwhelming and out of control to the individual that a solution cannot be seen. With encouragement and support individuals learn that there Is no problem so overwhelming that a solution can't be found. By Interacting with others, consumers learn that they are not the only one with problems and are given hope in solving them. Learning problem-solving skills is a vital step to Independence.
Diffusion of Crisis
Individuals rely heavily on the center in times of crisis. Individuals have come to the Center after attempting suicide. They know that the people at the center will help them. They know that at the Center they will find people who care about them and won't let them die.
Individuals know that the people at the Center are always there to help them through crisis. They know that the individuals there can understand and offer support. The Center gives individuals a stable ground on which to stand and a place to regain their strength. The diffusion of costs is what keeps individuals out of the hospital and keeps them well.
Dignity with Risk
The Center is a place where individuals with emotional/mental health problems are given the opportunity to learn to take risks. They know they will be accepted whether they succeed or fall. The Center serves as a safety net providing a secure place to return to after taking new risks. At the Center people have gone back to school, gotten new jobs, began therapy, moved Into independent living, stayed out of the hospital, faced challenges and learned to go on with their lives.
Individuals with mental/emotional problems feel a great deal of shame for their problems. At the center people find a shame-free environment. Individuals are given respect and treated with dignity as human beings and each person is seen as their own unique person. The center is a place to heal from the pain, guilt, humiliation and embarrassment we have been made to feel for the mental/emotional problems we face.
The center is ideally a transitional point - a place of progress in the recovery for individuals experiencing emotional problems. People come in, spend time and move back into society and begin the rest of their lives. For some individuals this process is short for others more lengthy, the center works for both.
The Center is about more than being "mentally III". It is much more than smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. The Center is about learning to be alive again. The Center Is about learning and sharing things that others take for granted. Over 8000 Individuals used the Drop-In Centers across the state last year, none of them were forced to go there, and none were ordered there for treatment. So why did so many individuals go to these Centers and keep coming back? The Centers offer something to consumers that they cannot get anywhere else. That something is more than can be summed up in these words. The Centers give individuals a chance to be "well", a chance to live again.