Written by: Judy Litt, Drop-In Center Volunteer
NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Metro Suburban Drop-In Center, Oak Park stands out amidst the community’s valuable assets. I came across this 30-year-old organization at a Triton College senior volunteer fair over a year ago, The Drop-In Center’s program manager invited me to tour the space and consider being a volunteer. I showed up the next day and met some of the individuals involved with the organization. The offer to volunteer was accepted. After a short period of time, I decided that this was a very good place. My impression after more than a year of volunteering is that it’s an exceptionally special place.
The Oak Park Drop-In Center caters to those with mental illness who are looking for a safe place where they can just walk in and relax or be social and get support. I started out greeting people as they came in the door, taking attendance, answering the phone, talking with or just listening to others. I was invited to participate in a goals discussion support group. What an eye opener! I learned so much about these outstanding individuals who are working hard to help themselves and each other. Many have been working on themselves for several years. I have also, from listening to the discussions and participating in groups, learned some new techniques to handle the stress of daily living. I participate in meditation, writing groups and WRAP classes (wellness recovery action plan) – all really helpful. There is much that we can all learn from each other.
Participants’ diagnoses range from anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), autism, combinations of these disorders and more. Obviously, these are not small or light conditions to have to live with for the rest of your life. These folks are truly brave! Individuals keep showing up and working on their challenges. Impressive.
I am continually learning more about those who attend the center, which is open every day, even including holidays! These visitors often attend day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. As my understanding increases, I am struck by the differences in how lifetime physical diseases are treated as opposed to mental illness. Our health system and public have not yet figured out reasonable solutions as to how to get these individuals through their tough times. The NAMI Drop-In Center actively works to help attendees find some of the answers within themselves. They learn strategies to get ahead of the inevitable episodes and prepare for the most difficult of times. This is only a beginning.
Looking back over my experience this year at the Drop-In Center, I have been touched by so many individuals including caring staff and active participants. I feel privileged that these peers continue to share such sensitive parts of their lives with me; I am excited about all the growth I hear about and observe every time I volunteer. At the same time, I must come to grips with the fact that reforms to our mental health system are, without a doubt, necessary and shifts in the attitudes that foster the stigmatization of mental disease are imperative.
To learn more about the Drop-In Center click here