California State University, Northridge Certificate in LGBTQ+ Health

Wellness Initiatives for People Living with Mental Illness

According to New York State’s Commissioner of Mental Health, Michael Hogan PhD, “There really is no recovery without some overall experience of wellness. There is no wellness without positive mental health. We need integration of care in every place. We have to approach it from a lot of different angles in behavioral health care settings to address emerging health problems.” Dr. Hogan served on the committee which published the 2006 “Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness” report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMPHD). The report found that people with mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population, largely due to treatable medical conditions caused by smoking, obesity and inadequate access to medical care.

F∙E∙G∙S Residential Services highly values the wellness of its tenants and places a strong emphasis on the influence that physical health has over an individual’s emotional well-being. As part of the Urban Institute of Behavioral Health (UIBH)/OMH Wellness Self-Management Initiative, F∙E∙G∙S has trained it residential staff to help all tenants maintain the lifestyle habits that are an integral part of maintaining good mental health, such as abstaining from alcohol and street drugs, maintaining a balanced and healthful diet, and exercising daily.

Gabrielle, 25, is a resident of Tanya Towers Apartment Program, one of the numerous housing programs offered by F·E·G·S for people who are living with a mental illness. Tanya Towers is a specialized building that houses persons who are deaf while they may have other disabilities. In March 2008, Gabrielle began attending newly formed Wellness and Nutrition groups provided at the residence by trained staff to address her health, as well as, emotional issues.

Before she joined the group, Gabrielle was agitated and impulsive; she didn’t have much appetite and had trouble sleeping. The group offered her the education and support necessary to better manage her life. The group helped her commit to avoiding unhealthy foods and beverages, and learn how to identify any physical and mental task that was too intensive and a potential trigger for angry and impulsive actions. Gabrielle reports that since joining the Wellness group she is happier at home and on her job, she feels better and has not gotten in trouble for aggressive behavior. Her appetite is better and she understands the need for good nutrition and healthy foods. Even her sleep has improved. At 25 she is developing healthy habits that can help her stay well both mentally and physically.

In order to achieve this goal, F·E·G·S conducts groups like Gabrielle’s at all of its residential programs. F·E·G·S’s Burnside Community Residence, for instance, offers a full compliment of Wellness Self-Management groups to aid residents in improving their overall well-being and move toward healthier, more independent and happier lives. The weekly groups offered are: New Consumer Orientation; Fitness Lab; Stress Reduction; “Eating for Life”; Symptom Management; Peer Support, which includes sessions on smoking cessation; Paths to Recovery; and Medication Management. The groups are having success with the Eli Lilly’s Solutions for Wellness and Team Solutions workbook materials which allow group participants to identify the issues they struggle with in their lives and in doing so make the first step toward resolving them. One participant said, “The book taught me how to get around obstacles and gave me a better understanding on how to deal with everyday life.” The health and wellness groups provided by F·E·G·S have had a tremendous impact on its clients. A wellness management group at the Simon Community Residence started in September 2007 with ten consumers of whom five moved to independent living, three moved to an apartment treatment program, one moved to an SRO, and one moved independently to her own apartment. A resident at Burnside stated that the groups have helped her “learn to be responsible and patient.” Another resident, who had experienced multiple long-term psychiatric hospitalizations, poor attendance at her day treatment program, and difficulties at the residence, has been attending many of the groups offered. She is very active in her participation in the fitness and “eating for life” group and her disposition at the day treatment program has improved dramatically. She is focused on improving skills in self-medication and maintaining her psychiatric stability. She says that she feels that she looks better and feels better because of her participation in the groups.

Having a focus on health combined with using a structured Wellness Self-Management curriculum (we use both the OMH curriculum and Eli Lilly’s) has benefited so many clients. There are many examples of residents who are now more careful about abstaining from alcohol and drugs, have become motivated by the material, staff and the success of peers, and are moving on to more independent living and moving on in their recovery. A horticulture group at the Kingsbridge CR/SRO is a creative example of engaging residents who were not going out during the day and giving them something to take care of. The residents get a hands-on connection with nature and they realize they have an effect on something else that is living. David has been participating in The Horticultural Therapy Group since its inception, and states that he has been feeling more relaxed and it also gives him a “sense of purpose”. David has also been able to reconnect with his family members and his estranged grandson who has since become a part of his life. David was also accepted into the Supported Apartment Program.

In recognizing the impact maintaining and improving consumer’s physical health has on their overall well-being, F·E·G·S is better positioned to help clients achieve self-sufficiency and feel fulfilled in their lives. One group participant said that the wellness group “was very educational. It helped me with my mental illness. I learned skills which will help me to move to my own apartment…It is good to know that even though you have a mental illness, you can still do stuff.” By encouraging clients to make healthy life choices and to control what they can in their lives, F·E·G·S each day is helping individuals realize their true potential and, with the support of staff and peers, develop viable ways to achieve it.

Salene Browne is Director of the Simon Community Residence, Glenn Stelzer is Director of the Tanya Towers Apartment Program, and Allison Wendell is Director of the Burnside Community Residence of F∙E∙G∙S Health and Human Services System.

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