Recovery Within a Drop-in

How Does Recovery Happen In A Drop-in Setting?




Recovery is a journey of healing and transformation where you gain control over your life and the direction you want your life to go.


Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose as you grow beyond the impact of the diagnosis and its challenges.


There are countless definitions of recovery, but the drop-in center represents the true recovery concept by helping people get on with their life, beyond the mental health system and treatment services.  The drop-in center is a transitional point in many people’s lives.  It serves as a place of progress in 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 lengthy.  The center works with both.  


The drop-in center is about more than being “mentally ill.”  The center is about learning to be alive again.  The center is about learning and sharing things that others take for granted.  Over 15,000 individuals use drop-in centers across Michigan each year.  None of these individuals were forced to go to the drop-in, none were ordered there for treatment.  So why do so many individuals go to these centers and keep coming back?


The center:

n      Encourages self-help and mutual support

n      Provides resources, information and referral services

n      Advocates for civil and legal rights of individuals labeled “mentally ill”

n      Acts as a vehicle for acquiring self advocacy skills

n      Develops special projects as desired by members

n      Offers something to consumers that they cannot get anywhere else

n      Gives individuals a chance to be “well,” a chance to embrace recovery and to live again


Every drop-in has multiple success stories.  For example, recently a woman was involuntarily hospitalized in the locked unit of a psychiatric hospital, after having stayed out of the hospital for many years.  Upon release she was sent to live with a family member and completed a three-month out-patient psychiatric program.  During this time, she lost the job she had held for 12 years and her marriage dissolved. After completing the out-patient program, her doctor told her that she needed some kind of plan before he would release her.  Even though she had never visited a drop-in, she called her local drop-in and asked if she could go there.  The drop-in director assured her that it would be a great place for her to go. 


She was terrified as she walked into the drop-in, not knowing who would be there or whether or not they would want her there.   What she found when she walked through those doors was total acceptance and safety.  She saw that she wasn’t, in her words, a “freak,” and that she was not alone.  The people in the drop-in did not necessarily have physical scars.  Instead, their challenges and triumphs showed on their faces and in the way she was welcomed.  There was an unspoken fellowship that she had not felt anywhere else, not even the hospital.  As she went to the drop-in in the ensuing months, she began to develop trust.  Something else also happened around this time.  She found that as she continued to recover, she in turn helped others at the drop-in who shared her goal of recovery.  This alone was a powerful component of her recovery.  Approximately 90 people visit her drop-in on a daily basis.  That means there are 90 people she can turn to for help and understanding and 90 people she may help.  This valuable resource can only be found at the drop-in. 


That was three year ago.  Today she lives independently and has had no more hospitalizations.  Most importantly, she is gainfully employed in a full-time, meaningful job that she truly enjoys.  None of this would have happened if she sat in her home and dwelled on her illness. The drop-in was truly a pivotal component in her recovery.


Her story is an example of how the drop-in movement is all about recovery and learning to go on with your life.  Over 15,000 mental health consumers in Michigan each year share such successes and are testaments to that simple philosophy.  Currently as of July 2011, there are at least 56 consumer-run organizations operating within the state of Michigan. 


JIMHO founder Richard Wellwood spearheaded the drop-in movement in Michigan based on some very simple truths and principles.  He acknowledged that professional therapy and medications help and that they do have their place.  But he firmly believes, to this day, that all people can improve their mental health when kindness, understanding and dignity are extended to them and shared with their peers.  These gifts are given and received at the drop-in.


The principle Richard put to action at JIMHO was making “Gentle Justice” the cornerstone of the drop-in.  When individuals with emotional or mental health problems reach out to each other, two things happen.  First, the recovery of the person seeking “help” is strengthened because, despite their problems or diagnoses, they feel understood and valued for who he or she is.  The second thing is that the recovery of the person “helping” is strengthened by giving back and empowering their peers giving them a feeling of value and worth.  That is the beginning steps in recovery and self-respect.


Community Mental Health board members, community mental health staff, and communities are welcome to “drop in” and see the center in action.


Brian Wellwood, Executive Director

Justice in Mental Health Organization

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