Once a week, a group of individuals living with mental illness gather to discuss the triumphs and setbacks of recovery. They speak to each other with great candor and empathy.
“The group reinforces that I should not give up on life, my goals and people – all of which I had once given up on,” says Monique, who suffers from depression. “In group, I know that I am not alone, that other people experience the same traumas, and I that I can manage my illness if I work hard on it.”
The group is “consumer-run.” All who attend are consumers of mental health services provided by Southwest Counseling Solutions (SWCS). They meet at SWCS’ Go-Getters Drop-in Center. The meeting is facilitated by two SWCS peer specialists: Joel and Joan.
“My experience is that people are more apt to open up with their peers because we are all in this together,” Joel says. “Many who come to group are on the brink of embracing recovery and need the support of people who have been there to close the gap.”
“Mental illness can destroy hopes and dreams, and the transformation in and out of illness is so severe,” Joan says. “When people in group see how Joel and I are working as peer specialists, I think it inspires them to look at their own possibilities and how to achieve them.”
The group is based on an evidenced-based model called Illness Management and Recovery (IMR). The IMR model teaches consumers to identify recovery goals, tailor medication regimens to improve treatment, learn coping skills, and develop relapse prevention plans.
SWCS is currently running several IMR groups to help consumers with serious and persistent mental illness.
“The group definitely encourages me to do better,” says Rakiyyah, who attends sessions at Go-Getters. “We are all climbing a hard path, and we need each other to make it up.”
SWCS’ implementation of the IMR model is made possible through a grant by the Ethel and James Flinn Foundation.