Saturday, October 27, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Top: Jeff Shapiro, Peter Briggs, Walonza Lee, Kimberly Knake, Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Brandon Johnson. | VFP
Last month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Metro Suburban opened The Living Room at 1917 Roosevelt Road in Broadview inside of Healthcare Alternative Systems — a nonprofit that offers substance abuse support services.
The Living Room, the first in Proviso Township, is a facility where people suffering mental health conditions can seek treatment as an alternative to a hospital emergency room.
The experience includes a brief assessment by a qualified clinician and consultations with recovery support specialists, or people “living well in recovery with a mental health condition that have been extensively trained to help others do the same,” Kimberly Knake, NAMI Metro Suburban’s executive director said in a statement.
What anchors the experience is a “serene and comforting” living room space where sessions with recovery support specialists happen. And all of these services, Knake said, are free.
Walonza Lee, the program manager for Healthcare Alternative System, said that the organization has been in the Broadview space for three years.
Lee said that HAS decided to expand its Broadview location in order to accommodate NAMI’s Living Room, because “often times, people are diagnosed with substance abuse use as the primary issue when mental health is their primary issue.
“In the past, both would be dealt with individually — you’d receive substance abuse treatment at one agency and mental health treatment somewhere else,” she said. “Now, we’ve realized in order to treat one you have to treat both.”
Knake said that she hopes that the Broadview facility experiences the same success as The Living Room that opened in La Grange in 2016. That facility, she said, has seen more than 400 new guests and has a 65 percent return rate. Fewer than 10 guests have been hospitalized, she said.
“When we see someone for the first time, we are very successful in helping them de-escalate, calm down and open up,” Knake said on Oct. 18, when she opened the facility’s doors to state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and incoming First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Knake said that guests often build strong relationships with recovery support specialists, who follow up with them in order to work on “identifying triggers, setting goals, creating safety plans and obtaining essential resources.”
In the weeks since opening, Knake and Lee said, they’ve been focused on tackling perhaps the biggest obstacle that could block Proviso Township residents from taking advantage of The Living Room’s services — the stigma that often accompanies mental health.
“People might not have a mental illness diagnosis, because there is so much stigma about mental illness in this community,” said Knake. “So if people feel stressed or angry, please come in and sit with [the certified recovery support specialists] and start talking to us, so that we can start to understand if you need mental health services.”
The outside of Healthcare Alternative Systems in Broadview, where NAMI Metro Suburban recently opened The Living Room. | VFP
Johnson, a former middle school teacher, said that he knows firsthand how mental health disorders can be stigmatized — even in the classroom.
“Sometimes, the mental instability within a child is either demonized or criminalized,” Johnson said. “We have to end that. We have to stop that.”
Knake said that NAMI visits schools to “start educating students at the sixth-grade level” about the importance of mental health detection and treatment.
“The concept is real,” Welch said. “If we don’t address the trauma our kids are experiencing now, they become the perpetrators later.”
Larry Shapiro, the suburban liaison for Congressman Danny K. Davis (7th) whose son, Jeff, is a recovery support specialist with NAMI, said that more churches should get involved to help spread the word about the new facility.
“I want to get pastors here, the leaders of our churches here, so they can truly understand,” Shapiro said. “I think we can get 10 to 20 pastors to do what we’re doing today and I think that will make a great difference.”
Jeff Shapiro said that he found out about NAMI “because of support from other people, because for a long time I didn’t talk to anybody about what I was experiencing. I kept it inside. I was too ashamed and embarrassed — humiliated, really — for having something that’s so stigmatized.”
Shapiro said that he thinks more people will benefit from The Living Room’s de-stigmatized environment and the fact that there is no health insurance required to use its services.
Peter Briggs, another recovery support specialist, said that people are more open to trusting their struggles with those who share them. Briggs said that he was a NAMI client before he became an employee.
“The ability to be able to share intricate details of our story helps them feel comfortable and safe,” said Briggs, who added that he was a stockbroker and business-owner who had self-medicated with alcohol for 20 years before he was diagnosed with, and received treatment for, both substance abuse and mental health challenges.
“Its a symbiotic relationship where we’re both getting help and I always make sure that I tell them, ‘You’re not the only one getting help around here,'” Briggs said.
Knake said that The Living Room in Broadview is funded by the Community Memorial Foundation and the townships of Oak Park and Proviso.
Johnson said that he hopes the facility helps to dissolve the stigma of mental illness in his district, where people are constantly exposed to harmful amounts of physical and emotional trauma that often trigger mental health challenges.
“We normalize the dismissing of trauma,” Johnson said. “There’s a badge of honor in getting over it, of being strong and pressing through. Who hasn’t been depressed? I’m impressed that [with this facility] there is a real intentionality about outreach and eliminating the barriers of keeping people from treatment.” VFP
For more info on The Living Room, click here.
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