New Social Group for Mentally ILL
Published Saturday, July 19, 2003

Pizza and a Movie - RRJFS begins socials for the recovering mentally ill

As part of an ongoing program to assist the families of the mentally ill through itís support groups, Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service of South Palm Beach County (RRJFS) is launching "Pizza and a Movie" August 15, a first step in its plan to open a Drop-In-Center for the mentally Ill.

Boca residents, Nancy and Marvin Schiller provided the initial funding to help start a support group for the families of adult children with mental illness, with the goal of establishing a Drop-in-Center in the near future. Since the first meeting in June, the support group has had an enormous response from the community.

"An average of three new people a week are calling, and weíve had to expand to two groups on the same day to accommodate all the requests," says Felicia Einhorn, program coordinator.

According to Einhornís research, Palm Beach County is grossly under-served in the area of mental health for a population of its size. With serious and persistent mental illness affecting five to seven percent of all adults in the United States, the need for mental health services in Palm Beach County is growing.

"It isnít just socialization and stigmatization thatís a problem, there just isnít any place to go," explains Debbie, whose 30 year-old daughter Elizabeth has suffered from schizophrenia since she was 12. "When we lived up north, Elizabeth had access to a variety of housing alternatives with different levels of supervision and a day-treatment program. In South Palm, even the therapy resources are inadequate. "

This point is reinforced by a June 23, 2003 Associated Press article about the Presidentís Commission on Mental Health, "Todayís mental health system, critics say, responds to crises, simply keeping people on medications and squelching symptoms."

The new model, the article explains, "could mean helping someone find housing, get job training or develop skills to have social or romantic relations."

The stigma of having a mental illness combined with the difficulty of interacting with others is part of what the Schillers want to change. The drop-in-center is hopefully just the first step say the Schillers. "In the future we hope to be able to offer job training, housing and all the services necessary to help the mentally lead full, productive lives."

The drop-in center will allow members to focus on their strengths and to work side by side with staff towards socialization and transitional employment. The Center, which has tentatively been named Welcome Home, will offer a full range of activities, including art, music, exercise and nutritional information, computer skills and a variety of support groups to help the clients deal with living with their illness, coping and problem solving.

Einhorn says that community resources, such as day programs and social activities, are non-existent in South Palm Beach County. "Most people who suffer from mental illness are not going to reach out to others. We have to reach out to them and find ways to help them reconnect. Itís one of the reasons why a drop-in-center is so important. These socials are a first step towards bringing together a population that is virtually ignored," she adds.

Debbie says until she found the support group at Ruth Rales, her daughter had regressed. "Thereís no place for her to socialize and she doesnít drive. Through other parents in the support group, she has found friends who she can relate to."

For more information interested parties are encouraged to call Felicia Einhorn at 561-852-3226.

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