Mentally Ill Patients Get Help Through Wellness Program in Albemarle County

February 27, 2014

Chris Hall has lived with bipolar disorder for nearly twenty years. When he starts to feel himself unraveling, Hall says he turns to the Wellness Recovery Center in Albemarle County.

"I've dealt with my disease for so long...I can tell when I'm getting stressed out and my medications aren't working," Hall says that's when he calls his emergency services provider. "I tell them, 'can you see if you Wellness Recovery has a bed.'"

The program is provided through Region Ten and offers people suffering a mental health crisis a place to stay and get back on track. It's a rare middle ground between a bed at a psychiatric hospital and being out on the streets and on their own. It's a new concept to care and it's gaining traction in the mental health care community.

"I would really like to see it throughout the state," said Buzz Barnett, the director of emergency services at Region Ten and a member of the state's mental health task force. "Right now there are only very limited of crisis stabilization programs. I think there should be one within an hour of where every person in this state lives but there are certain areas of the state that are really under-served."

Rachel Aull was referred to the wellness program in Albemarle County after she began to sink into a deep depression and have suicidal thoughts. She takes part in the daily group counseling sessions, focusing on self-esteem and relationship building.

"I love the way it's set up, it really helps with different parts of you that need healing," Aull said. "I want to be able to work and have relationships and families and I need to work on all of those things."

With a staff of 35 nurses, doctors, therapists, and specialists on hand, visitors like Aull and Hall can stay at the Wellness Recovery Center anywhere from one day to two weeks. The facility boasts a community kitchen, an activity room, and all of the individualized support a person needs to get back on track. The center has fourteen beds, which are usually full with patients who are referred to the program by their emergency services provider.

"We have evidence-based programming," said Mary Schlimm, the director of the Wellness Recovery Program. "I think we have it figured out and I think we have a program that actually works."

As Hall's two week stay comes to an end, Hall says he is nervous about going home, because he knows as much as the program offers him skills to cope with his mental illness, it doesn't offer a cure.

"Sometimes I wish I could just press a button and say I don't need these medications," Hall said. "The thing is, I have to stay on my meds or I get worse off. I just do the best I can."

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