Norristown event promotes action plan for recovery from mental illness

Mental health professionals and advocates are increasingly pursuing the idea of “recovery,” which means helping people to live productive and engaged lives despite mental illness.

An event in Norristown on Friday promotes one specific aspect of this concept — a step-by step action plan for staying healthy.

The idea is to put people in charge of maintaining their mental health. It was a new concept for Gina Calhoun, who spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals, because she hears voices.

“When I first got into the mental health system, it was all about what was wrong with me, what was going on in my brain, and ‘let’s use medication to stop what’s going on in Gina’s brain,'” she recalled.

Calhoun now works for the Copeland Center, a mental health training organization. Calhoun said to be well, and to be a productive citizen, she needed to find employment, friendships, and support. Managing her symptoms was helpful, but it didn’t address that she had no work history, no resume, and that she was living in poverty. She says developing her own wellness recovery action plan, or WRAP, helped her do that.

“It’s a structured system that I develop for myself to take back control of my life and move toward a wellness goal,” she said.

Calhoun said the plan put her in charge of her recovery, as it gave her hope and ways to get her life on track. Exercise and diet are part of her plan, as are simple techniques to calm the voices she hears when they get disruptive.

“I take a jigsaw puzzle, I turn it upside down and I try to put it together,” she said. “It focuses me outward, and away from the voices.”

The community event in Norristown will feature discussions about wellness plans and offer practical tips, said organizer Robert Martin. “We want to help them with managing their medications, dealing with financial issue, relationship issues —  WRAP plans can do all of that,” he said.

A peer counselor for people living with mental illness, Martin is in recovery himself. He said his recovery plan has helped him manage his medications and address behaviors such as petty theft that used to land him in jail.

Many mental health providers are using WRAP to help people manage their mental illness, but Martin wants to bring the concept to people who may not be receiving services right now.

The event takes place Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Norristown Farm Park on Germantown Pike.

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