What a “Drop-In” Is
Drop-In Centers offer a safe, supportive environment within the community for individuals who have experienced mental/emotional problems. Drop-In Centers allow individuals the opportunity to learn to live in the community and to take control of their lives.
At the Center, individuals are able to interact with others who have shared similar experiences, such as hospitalizations, medications, doctors, therapies, etc. Understanding of 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 individuals come to a Drop-In Center is this support. Individuals find that discouragement, fear, rage, pain, and anxiety are all natural human emotions, and are 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.
A person who has experienced mental or emotional problems often sees their feelings as only a part of their diagnosis. At the Drop-In, individuals assist each other in validating their feelings and understanding their pain and fear.
A Place To Go, A Place To Be
The Center gives consumers a place to go, a place to be. It’s that simple. One is able to relax, enjoy, and just experience. Many consumers have nowhere to go and would remain isolated in their homes. Everywhere they go they are confronted by the stigma of “mental illness.” They can’t be on the streets, businesses don’t want them on their property, group homes tell them they have to be out of the home at a certain time… where is there to go? Individuals need interaction with others to grow and to live. Individuals need somewhere to go where they can feel safe.
The ability to make decisions is learned at the Center. Each individual makes their own decision about when to go 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. These decisions are often difficult after you have had all your decisions made for you. The concept of having the freedom to make one’s own decisions is foreign to many consumers. When the ability to make decisions is used, encouraged and reinforced, it can then be used in other areas of one’s life. As consumers 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 individuals are accepted by others, they learn to accept 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
Individuals who have suffered mental/emotional “breakdowns” often see their “breakdown” as a sign of weakness. Mental/emotional problems are seen as an inability of the individual. Simply being a mental health consumer can cause self-esteem and self-confidence to erode.
As individuals 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 that the Center provides, individuals learn to believe in themselves.
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 people 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 care, 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. Even individuals who have been away from the Center for a while always know that they can come “home” to share their successes and challenges. Nowhere can individuals find this same unconditional acceptance and support that the Center provides.
Many of us do not appreciate the role that friends play in our lives. Friendship is one of the reasons individuals come to the Center. The friendships that are established are a great source of joy and satisfaction. Friendships at the Center are based on an understanding and compassion for the lives and struggles of each individual. With the assistance, support and understanding of one friend, a person is often able to make it through severe emotional and mental health crises. Individuals want and value people in their lives.
An advocate is “one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal.” Advocacy is a unique skill that consumers can learn at the Center. An advocate may defend another or themselves. When individuals begin advocating, they acknowledge their situation, take responsibility for their lives, and struggle for the rights for others. They become “socially aware” adults. 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 and ideas. Empowerment is learning to take control of one’s life. Empowerment is having 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.
At the Center, individuals learn that they are not alone in their fears and together the courage and strength to confront these fears can be found. Individuals receive encouragement and are able to act with the strength of the entire Center behind them. Individuals are able to see the accomplishments of others and develop the determination within themselves to undertake new challenges. The courage to continue living through pain is found as one meets others who are also living through pain. Courage to be yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, to get out of bed, to face the world, to meet others, can all be found through participating in the Center. In a sometimes indifferent world, individuals find the courage at the Center to believe that they are important and make a difference. Individuals also learn to appreciate the strength within themselves that has brought them through pain in their lives.
People’s sense of identity, in part, comes from external forces: other people, their jobs, their activities. For people with a mental health diagnosis, identity can be based on labels, therapies, medications, treatments, etc. The Center is a place where individuals are allowed their own identity. Individuals learn to express themselves, and receive feedback and verification. Individuals are seen as who they are and where they are. 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. Individuals are not seen as “mentally ill” at the Center. Individuals learn about their own identity and expand their sense of who they are. Their strength and confidence increases through growth of self-identity.
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 their knowledge and information on local resources such as food banks or housing, as well as knowledge and experiences of the mental health system and how it has affected their lives.
At the Center, individuals choose their own interests, grow at their own pace, and accomplish their own goals. As one is educated through interaction and experience, the individual grows naturally. Individuals then use their newly acquired knowledge in their personal lives and in the community.
Being honest with oneself is a value everyone struggles with. Drop-In Centers are places where people 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. The Center encourages, supports, and enables people to live in an honest world of their own choosing. 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 honestly without fear of punishment. Individuals also must receive honesty from others and be told things that they may not want to hear. Only through this type of honesty can individuals grow.
The Center creates a safe environment through acceptance. 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.
Expressing and dealing with feelings is often difficult. Many consumers have suppressed their feelings for so long that they no longer know how to express them. The Center gives individuals a safe outlet to learn about and express feelings. The Center is a place to talk, compare, analyze, and attempt to understand one’s feelings. As individuals share their experiences and feelings they discover that they are not alone. While at the Center, no one can harm themselves or others or threaten others. It is not allowed! Drop-in staff members are trained to recognize when someone may need more help than they can provide. However, expressions of anger and pain ARE allowed. Individuals know the Center is safe and they will not be punished or discriminated against just because they are expressive.
The lives of individuals labeled “mentally ill” have often been chaotic, unpredictable, full of upheaval and change. Individuals often feel like outsiders in the world. The Center is a place that is dependable, safe and secure. This is important to those who have not had these aspects in their personal lives. A naturalized environment is unforced. Individuals are allowed to develop naturally and discover their place in the world. Individuals are not made to feel different or abnormal. The Center is not a structured environment. The Center does not offer programs. The Center is not a treatment. Individuals come to the Center of their own free will to share their lives with others. Individuals come to the Center to be treated as individuals.
The Center is a place to learn new ways of living through both being a role model and having others to role model for us. Role modeling is being an example to others: an example of success, of taking care of oneself, of acceptance and even of failure. At the Center, people see others who are facing life’s challenges and through that may learn to face the challenges in their own lives.
Responsibility means taking responsibility for one’s self and one’s recovery, not blaming your life on others. Learning to be responsible for one’s own health, welfare, behavior and feelings is encouraged at the Center.
The center is a place of encouragement. It encourages individuals who are often isolated in the community that there is hope because there is a place where they can 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 individuals’ 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. Individuals cannot survive with only pain in their lives; they must have humor and joy. 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. Everyone needs time and places to experience fun, relaxation and happiness. The Center is such a place.
Individuals with mental health problems 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 can make choices and practice decision-making skills. 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 and receive assistance in 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. Consumers who feel that they have no control in their lives often find problem-solving difficult. 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, offer support and help diffuse the crisis. The Center gives individuals a stable ground on which to stand and a place to regain their strength.
Drop-In staff are trained to recognize situations in which more help is needed than they can provide. They can help decide when to seek professional assistance from trained clinicians.
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 fail. The Center serves as a safety net providing a secure place to return to after taking new risks. Individuals receive support and encouragement in facing the fears of risk-taking. Consumers have learned that the choices they make are bad, that they will only fail in their attempt to be anything, and that taking risks is just too much for them. At the Center, individuals learn that the only failure of risk-taking is to not try. At the Center, individuals 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.
The center creates hope for a positive and productive life. Once an individual loses hope there will be no positive growth or movement. At the Center, hope is created. One learns and experiences hope from seeing others doing better. Hope is also created as you find others who care about you.
Non-Judgmental, Shame-Free Environment
The Center is a non-judgmental place. The judgments of the outside world are absent. No one makes judgments about how you look, dress, or act. It is a place where only constructive criticism takes place; criticism that does not hurt or harm.
Individuals with mental/emotional problems sometimes feel a great deal of shame for their problems. At the Center, individuals find a shame-free environment in which they are given respect and are treated with dignity as human beings. The Center is a place to heal from the pain, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment we may have felt for the mental/emotional problems we face.
The Center is a place where individuals can begin to take risks. It is safe and they know that they will be accepted whether they succeed or fail. They grow from these experiences of having the opportunity to make their own decisions and receive support, even if the decision didn’t work out. Because of the support, even if they fail, they are acknowledged for making the effort. Through this process, they learn that it is okay to make decisions, even if they are wrong; and that it is okay to continue taking risks. The Center plays as a safety net, providing a secure place to return to after taking new risks.
The Center is ideally a transition 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 it is more more lengthy; the Center works for both.
The Center is about more than being “mentally ill.” It is about learning to be alive again. The Center is about learning and sharing things that others take for granted. Over 8,000 individuals used the Drop-In Centers across the state last year. None of them were forced to go there; none were ordered there for treatment. 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.