"People don't think of recovery when they think of mental illness," said Kathe Horton, Hearts & Ears member and board treasurer. "Here we have peer support. You don't feel alone and can talk to someone who has been through it."
Russ Springham is an adult service manager at Baltimore Mental Health Systems, which funds various contracts for wellness and recovery centers in the city. Springham compares the model used at Hearts & Ears as "similar to substance abuse programs where peer support is used extensively in recovery."
"There is a double stigma for the individuals who are also consumers of mental health services because they are a double minority," said Jessica Blum, newly appointed program director for Hearts & Ears. Blum has been working diligently to prepare office space and attract new members; once the new site opens its doors, Blum will reinstitute its weekly support groups and operate the drop-in center.
Staff and volunteers facilitate a variety of groups at the center. These cover a wide range of educational forums, outreach sessions, and activities for physical and mental health. Hearts & Ears provides opportunities for socialization as well as support groups for men, women, and transgender individuals, as well as creative writing and art groups, smoking cessation and WRAP, to name a few.
"WRAP (Wellness & Recovery Action Plan) is an individualized plan for persons who have mental illnesses identifying triggers and developing support systems and a plan for mitigating future crisis situations" said Springham. Special training is required to facilitate this group.
Why is WRAP so important?
"It gets people to understand the illness in their lives, and get feedback from those who know them so they can get intervention before they are very sick," said Horton, who knows firsthand the value of a support system for her depression and anxiety. She first became seriously ill in her twenties, and was hospitalized for many months.
"I got out, slowly worked my way back to a normal life and discovered in the process that I was a lesbian. But forty years later, everything crashed around me," said Horton. "When I heard about WRAP, I realized that was everything I had been doing, but I lost my support system and my doctor, because I didn't realize they were necessary. So now I'm listening."
Hearts & Ears will be located at 11 W. Chase Street, and will be open at least 30 hours a week. Services are available for anyone who identifies as a member of the LGBT community and suffers from mental illness. ■
Hearts & Ears