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Is Recovery From Mental Illness Possible?

By: Sarah Kahan, LCSW

Published in The Jewish Press, June 13, 2014

As a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor for intake services at OHEL, I assist individuals with mental illness to access many of the OHEL programs geared towards mental health recovery, such as psychotherapy and medication management, supportive housing, crisis intervention, supported employment and a day program.

Recently New York State has decided to close adult homes that house close to two hundred individuals diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness in order to focus on helping those with psychiatric disabilities live more independently in the community. Wraparound services such as case management and peer supports are provided to help the individuals obtain the skills required to sustain an independent lifestyle and reduce recidivism into mental hospitals.

Shoshana was living with her parents when at the age of eighteen, without any symptoms or warning, she had her first nervous breakdown.

She was admitted to the psychiatric emergency room because she was hallucinating and had stopped eating. At the hospital she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She was given psychotropic medication and when her symptoms subsided she returned home.

Shortly thereafter, she stopped taking her medication as it caused her to feel listless and lethargic. A short time later she was hospitalized again and discharged when her symptoms were stabilized. This cycle repeated itself a number of times over the next few years until, unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse. The local psychiatric hospital was unable to stabilize her in the normal amount of time and it was recommended that she be sent to a state hospital for long-term treatment.

Her parents were extremely distraught; they wanted a better life for their daughter and watching her deteriorate was incredibly painful. Yomim Tovim were particularly difficult.

Fortunately, after several months, Shoshana daughter began to improve, and her social workers began to talk about discharging her. Returning home was not an option, as she required a higher level of care than could be provided there.

Shoshana moved into a community residence where she lived for about a year. During that time she learned how to manage her symptoms and the skills necessary to live on her own. She recently moved into an apartment with a roommate. Her case manager helps her budget her money, pay her bills, keep her appointments with her therapist and psychiatrist, and maintain the cleanliness of her apartment.

Shmuel was in an out-of-town beis medrash when he became extremely depressed.

He was not able to keep up with the learning curriculum and in the middle of the zman he was sent home. He stayed in his room and hardly ever ventured outside. His mother tried frantically to fi nd something that would help him get out of bed and be more productive. OHEL arranged for a social worker and psychiatrist to evaluate him at home and connect him to appropriate resources that could help him feel better and become more productive.

He began going weekly for psychotherapy sessions and monthly medication management. He is now thinking about going to college to get his BA and has begun working part time. He is also thinking about dating since some of his friends have gotten married. He joined a support group for individuals who want to learn how to feel more comfortable with the dating process and to learn the skills necessary to develop a serious relationship with someone.

Both individuals have been on a long journey, but it is encouraging to see how far they have come. My belief, which has only been strengthened by my professional experience, is that people with disabilities can lead rich lives, have meaningful relationships, integrate into the community and become productive members of the workforce.

It does not happen overnight, but through a proactive resolve, professional intervention and loving care, lives can and are elevated.

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