LA GRANGE – Individuals experiencing an increase in symptoms of a mental illness now have an option in La Grange to get help and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Metro Suburban recently opened The Community Wellness Center and Living Room, where people can meet with support specialists when in crisis or learn more about mental illness and how to strengthen overall wellness.
NAMI is the largest grassroots provider of education, support and advocacy for individuals and families who are affected by mental illness. The nonprofit group, which is based in Oak Park, provides classes and support groups for adults diagnosed with a mental illness and their families free of charge. About one in four Americans will experience a mental illness, and NAMI Metro Suburban serves about 3,200 people a year.
Kimberly Knake, executive director of NAMI Metro Suburban, said the Living Room is based on a national model that aims to reduce hospitalizations due to mental illness. She said the Living Room is unique because it is primarily peer run and staffed by recovery support specialists who have been certified to help others.
“The support specialists are individuals who are living well with their own mental illness experience and can help others going through it,” she explained. “Individuals are more open to discussing mental illness with someone who understands where they are, instead of a doctor or therapist. There’s an instant trust factor. A recovery support specialist can also help normalize mental illness and reduce the self-stigma.”
The Community Wellness Center and Living Room, which is at 4731 Willow Springs Road, is a drop-in center that’s open from 2 to 10 p.m. 365 days a year. Individuals first meet with a licensed clinician to ensure they’re a good fit for the services the organization can provide. Knake said if people are actively suicidal or experiencing psychosis they are referred to a hospital.
“We have relationships with area hospitals to ensure that clients have access to treatment, medication and housing, which are the obstacles to recovery,” she said. “We partner with Pillars and work with other community support teams to ensure that we can help clients get access to treatment and housing. We also encourage clients to come back and work with recovery support specialists to understand their mental illness and any obstacles to recovery.”
An important consideration when designing the Living Room was that it didn’t feel like a hospital or mental health clinic, Knake said. She wanted to make sure it had a warm and inviting environment.
(R)evolution architecture, a firm based in La Grange, designed the space with those considerations in mind. Chris Frye, founder and architect at (r)evolution, said his company has worked with other mental health care providers, and his design used wood paneling, warm colors and soft lighting to create a calming atmosphere that can help soothe those who are seeking help.
“Adding warmth gives a person a sense that they’re not coming into a clinical setting. It was important to make sure when somebody walked into the center that it didn’t feel confrontational,” he said. “This is a project where you can help make a person feel better. This work has a positive impact on our community and it gives us a sense of fulfillment and pride.”
Community members also can visit the center to learn more about mental illness and how to help family members who are experiencing it. Classes about mental illness, parenting, meditation and overall wellness are offered free of charge.
“We hope families can come in and learn more about mental illness and can learn tools to strengthen overall family wellness or help family members find support to strengthen recovery,” Knake said.
While NAMI’s services are for those 18 and older, the group visits area high schools and middle schools to educate students about symptoms of mental illness. Knake explained most symptoms begin to present at age 13 or 14.
“One in 10 youth will start to feel symptoms, and only 50 percent will get treatment. The earlier you detect mental illness, the better the recovery,” she said.