A Vital Piece in the Wellness Puzzle
Reprinted from the "Recovery" issue of Visions Journal, 2013, 9 (1), pp. 25-26
When I moved to Langley in April 2011, my mental health situation improved dramatically. The services I had been receiving in Vancouver’s West End, though adequate, paled in comparison to what I found in Langley.
Downtown Vancouver mental health teams have very large case loads of people with much more complex and severe issues. I don’t have chemical dependency issues and my schizoid affective disorder was kept in check through medication. Thus, in Vancouver I wasn’t a high priority and didn’t require extensive attention.
When I first stepped into Fraser Health’s Langley Mental Health office, I encountered a competent, well-oiled machine. As in Vancouver, a psychiatrist and a social worker dealt with my psychological needs, but in Langley I also had a community support worker who dealt with my psychosocial needs.
One of the psychosocial supports I was introduced to is what clients like to call “The Clubhouse” or “The Stone.” The clubhouse program is one of several psychosocial rehabilitation programs offered by Stepping Stone Community Services. Stepping Stone is a non-profit agency that aims to improve quality of life for people in Langley who face mental health challenges, as well as homelessness and poverty. Other programs include housing services and community living support.
A “clubhouse,” in a mental health context, is a centre that provides community for people who have mental illness. Clubhouses provide hope and opportunities for members to rejoin the worlds of friendships, family, employment and education. They also help members to access the services and support they need to continue their recovery. The clubhouse movement began in New York in 1948. Stepping Stone’s Langley clubhouse opened in the mid 1990s.
“Membership” is a key concept, as it creates a sense of belonging. The members are involved in planning, implementing and evaluating the programs offered. Membership at the Stepping Stone clubhouse is 100% voluntary. There is a gentle expectation that you participate in activities and that you come to the clubhouse to keep your membership current; however, there are no mandatory requirements for attendance.
My direct experience at Stepping Stone over the past two years has been overwhelmingly positive and constructive. Let’s start at the beginning. I was referred to the clubhouse by my social worker. The first time I walked into the clubhouse, people—members as well as the staff—smiled, said “hello” and chatted; they really helped take the edge off my arrival there. It was a new experience to be greeted so warmly and genuinely. And very quickly people took an interest in my welfare, and I was encouraged to get involved in the programming at the clubhouse.
One of the clubhouse staff suggested I come down to the craft group room and check it out. The women in the group welcomed me and started to suggest projects I could become involved in. With my clumsy guy fingers, I was learning to bead and knit. At first, I was a bit put off by the tasks, but then I began to gain skills, which encouraged me on. Making things with my hands was something I’d never had an opportunity to do before. Through these activities, I began to rebuild my stamina, which I’d lost due to illness, and to acquire a newfound discipline to complete tasks.
After a few months, I joined the creative writing group, which offers members the opportunity to express themselves through the printed word. Here I found a real avenue toward wellness. The writing allowed me to express emotions I hadn’t previously expressed, and to articulate my problems. The format of the group supported us to make ourselves vulnerable, without any negativity or backlash.
The group was run by a Stepping Stone employee, then by a student, and now I’m running the group as my way of contributing to the community. Usually we write in response to a prompt provided by the group facilitator. The creative writing group has a strong core membership, and we also have people who come and go. All are welcome.
Last October, the clubhouse issued a newsletter called The Grapevine. In addition to writing, we publish cartoons, paintings, recipes, sports write-ups and more. As one of the main editors, I take great joy in seeing the contributions of our members shape into a wonderful publication.
The clubhouse offers many other programs and events. They include personal development and wellness programs such as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan group, Toastmasters (public speaking and leadership skills), smoking cessation and harvest box distribution; and employment support such as job search assistance and supported work programs. Social and recreational opportunities include piano lessons, painting class, birthday celebrations, weekend outings and more.
Members experience some participatory democracy at the weekly membership meetings. We are encouraged to take part in the meetings, ask questions and comment on programming. We also share responsibility for the ongoing upkeep of the clubhouse facility.
Through membership at the clubhouse, I have gone from being unemployed, isolated and disenfranchised to functioning at an extremely high level. I have a part-time job in the private sector. I’ve made tons of friends; polishing my social interactions at the clubhouse has assisted me to make contacts and friends both in and outside the clubhouse community. My symptoms have reduced and my well-being has improved many-fold.
With combined services from Langley Mental Health (psychiatric treatment, group therapy, social worker services and referrals to other services), The Clubhouse (I still drop in a couple of times a week), and my new friends in the Langley community, I have become a happy, contributing member of society. Stepping Stone has had, and continues to have, a huge hand in my recovery. It has been not only necessary, but truly essential to my well-being.