July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

MENTAL HEALTH IN MICHIGAN

Mental health drop-in centers a refuge

Too often, the stigma associated with mental illness leads to individuals feeling isolated from society. This sense of isolation contributes to lower self-esteem and a decreased sense of well-being, which are roadblocks in the path to mental illness recovery. However, one of the greatest resources for individuals seeking recovery is support from their peers.

Many peer-run services across the state offer drop-in centers – a consumer-run organization that provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals with disabilities or mental health disorders. Drop-in centers, which are run entirely by individuals who are currently being treated for a mental illness or have received treatment in the past, provide individuals the opportunity to be among peers and access resources and information for a better lifestyle.

Michigan has more than 55 peer-run drop-in organizations, giving our state the largest network of independent peer-run organizations in the nation. These drop-in centers are best described as places where people with mental illness can “just be” and escape the stigma and judgment they often experience in day-to-day life.

Drop-in centers provide individuals with numerous benefits. Interacting with others who have shared similar experiences provides members with a support system to help them realize that they are not alone. As members of drop-in centers are accepted by their peers, they also learn to accept themselves, which often results in increased self-esteem.

Drop-in centers also give individuals with mental illness and disabilities the power to make their own decisions. They decide when to go to the center, when to leave, who to interact with and what they’re going to do while there. Though these may seem like small decisions, many individuals with mental illness or developmental disabilities are accustomed to having decisions made for them in hospitals and treatment centers. When individuals start to believe in themselves, they also begin to take control of their lives. Realizing that they have the power to make their own decisions often means a greater chance of recovery and a lower risk of re-hospitalization.

Lastly, peer-run services provide opportunities for members to perform different roles within the organization, creating opportunities for participants to learn new skills and assume leadership roles. Peer-run services are an integral part of mental health recovery programs. One of the greatest resources for people in recovery is the support offered by their peers. Therefore, providing individuals with non-judgmental support from people who have been – or are in the same – position can increase self-esteem and create a sense of community, which may just be what someone needs to start or continue on the road to recovery.

To learn more about peer-run services in the state of Michigan, visit michigan.gov/mdch.

Mike Vizena is executive director of the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards.