When people living with a diagnosed, or undiagnosed, mental illness experience a heightened level of emotional distress the goal is to help them calm down, says Kimberly Knake, executive director at NAMI Metro Suburban. And oftentimes walking into, or being dropped off at a loud, chaotic and fast-paced hospital emergency room is not the best answer, as it can only exacerbate a person’s symptoms.
Now, there is a peer-led, local alternative to the ER, she says.
On Oct. 1, in response to a rise in area teen suicides, and to help decrease the number of unnecessary trips to the ER, NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) Metro Suburban debuted the Community Wellness Center and Living Room in La Grange.
Knake emphasizes that a trip to the ER is appropriate when a person is “in psychosis, that break from reality, or who is suicidal, which means they have a plan and means to commit suicide. Those individuals need to be diverted to the hospital, and we have the protocol in place, and the relationships with the hospitals to do that in a non-traumatic way,” says Knake.
Decompressing in a warm, safe space
Based on a national model of care, the Living Room, says Shelly Lustrup, its director of recovery and support services, will serve individuals age 18 and over. Once there, they will initially undergo a brief medical assessment, then be led into a calming Living Room by Peter Briggs, who is one of six rotating support specialists, and a man who is in recovery, living with bi-polar depression himself, Lustrup says.
Briggs, who underwent extensive on-the-job training, says his role is to comfort, “calm them down and get them back into a stable mindset, then try and take it one step further and start the conversation about creating a recovery plan.”
Creating a plan is easier with the assist of an individual such as himself who knows first-hand what is happening now, and what comes next.
“We know that one in five people will be affected by mental illness. But, what is even more disheartening is that between the ages of 13 and 18 and 24 years of age is when youth will start beginning to feel the effects and symptoms of mental illness, but only 50 percent of youth and students will have treatment,” says Knake. “Through our Community Wellness Center we can really start educating residents and families about the signs and symptoms of mental illness.”
Lustrup hopes “patients” will keep returning to the space for its educational classes, and to check back in with a recovery support specialist as they move toward recovery.
“There was no service like this in this area, so we worked with Community Memorial Foundation and Westlake Health Foundation [and numerous other collaborating community partners] to build something that would service the West Cook County area,” Knake says.
For Briggs, this is a job for which he is well suited.
“If I had had an opportunity to go to a place like this when I was in crisis, or slowly going into crisis, or feeling like I was getting into crisis, I could have avoided a lot of in-patient treatment at hospital psych wards,” says Briggs. “I do believe I can be helpful in this role, because I am somebody who has walked in their shoes and am now in recovery.”