The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Recovery emphasis of Long Beach homeless program

Cover of "The Soloist"
Cover of The Soloist

This article below is enlightening and uplifting.  Here is an organization that actually understands the plight of our homeless mentally ill and tries to do something about it.  I hope you read this and feel positive about the possibility of correcting the stigma of mental illness in our society and feel that there is a way to give hope to the hopeless.

I am touched by the work of Dr. Ragins.  Please read this article and let me know what you think.

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L.B. homeless expert played key role in ‘The Soloist’s’ creation

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer

Posted: 02/27/2010 08:27:24 PM PST

Updated: 02/27/2010 08:48:22 PM PST

Mental Health America of Los Angeles member Karen Chandler,left, talks with Mark Ragins, right, the founding psychiatrist and medical director of the MHA Village in Long Beach. He advised Steve Lopez during the writing of The Soloist, which is the selection this year of Long Beach Reads One Book. (Stephen Carr / Press-Telegram)

Mental Health America of Los Angeles member Louie Shirpser holds one of several homemade wooden ship medels he made and that are on display at the MHA Village in Long Beach. The MHA Village provides a kind of humanistic approach to mental illness and seeks to help patients, or members as they re called at the Village, not only experience remission of their disease, but get better and reclaim their lives. (Stephen Carr / Press-Telegram)
  • LONG BEACH — Ralph Scialdone walks by with the neck of a guitar in his hand.”A bass,” he corrects, adding that its name is Ralphy Jr.When asked what the guitar, er, bass neck represents, Scialdone says, “It’s half a dream. The Village is going to make the other half come true.”Then he is off with a caseworker on a quest to find a new apartment.In the cafeteria, Dr. Mark Ragins, the medical director and founding psychiatrist of the Mental Health America Village in downtown Long Beach, makes the mistake of calling Karen Chandler, a client.”I am not a client,” Chandler says loudly. “I am a black woman member.”

    At the Village, it’s an important distinction that defines the organization’s whole approach. Namely, that those who use the services are part of a team, not divided into patients or clients and staff, but members of the collaborative whole.

    The extent to which Chandler, who has been a member since the Village’s inception, gets all that isn’t entirely clear. What is clear is that she likes to correct Ragins whenever the opportunity arises.

    The doctor is contrite as he’s scolded.

    In the course of a day, Ragins has numerous comical interactions, but it only underscores the serious business he’s in.

    For the past 20 years, Ragins has played a lead role in turning the Village from a fledgling recovery-focused mental health and homeless treatment and services center that operated on the fringes of accepted medical practice — into a model program.”I’ve known about them for 20 years,” said the Rev. Kit Wilke, a homeless advocate, of Woodruff Church. “They’ve consistently been one of the best things going and working with one of the most difficult populations.”

    A writer’s mentor

    Ragins was an integral figure in helping author Steve Lopez in his understanding of homelessness and mental illness. He also helped Lopez figure out how best help Nathaniel Ayers, the homeless mentally ill cellist the Los Angeles Times columnist befriended and profiled.

    Ragins also became what Lopez called his “on-call adviser” for Lopez’s book, “The Soloist,” which is this year’s choice by the Long Beach Library Foundation for the annual Long Beach Reads One Book series of events.

    Ragins has been at the forefront of so-called “recovery movement” in psychiatry and psychology. Once a kind of radical approach, it is now widely accepted, if not well-practiced.

    For years, the goal of psychiatrists treating the mentally ill was to achieve remission, meaning the patient ceased to display abnormal behaviors.

    In recovery psychology, the goal is to treat the person as one who can recover, and then find ways to help the person create a life of his or her choosing.

    In a sense, the goal is to treat the person rather than the illness.

    Martha Long, the director emeritus of the Village, sums up the facility’s goal as helping members “get a life.” That may sound flip, but it gets to the heart of what the Village is about.

    Ragins is an author himself, and his book, “A Road to Recovery,” lays out in straight-forward and spare prose his model for treatment.

    The recovery process, in his view, rests on four pillars: hope, empowerment, self- responsibility and finding meaningful roles in life.

    Sessions at the Village often begin with a question along the lines of “What do you WANT?”

    Then begins the process, no matter how slow, halting and protracted it may seem, to attaining that goal and, in the process, living a desired life.

    The road is never linear and rarely easy.

    Richard, who didn’t give his last name, suffered from 25years of addiction and 2years of homelessness before coming to the Village, and now he works there.

    “I was sleeping under a bridge,” he says. “But if you put in some work and effort and have faith, you can turn your life around.”

    Feeling of safety is key

    To illustrate the patience required, Richard mentions the case of a man who comes to the Village daily. Richard says intake information has been slowly collected on the man for a year now. There’s no real timetable for when the man will feel comfortable enough to become a member, but for the time being he feels safe coming in, and that’s something.

    It sounds simplistic, maybe even naive, but the results can be profound.

    The Village offers three-day immersion classes to health professionals to teach them its methods.

    Executive Director Paul Barry says he remembers one student who seemed unimpressed afterward and said “What you teach is just common sense.”

    Barry said that was a student who got exactly what the Village is trying to preach.

    Although that’s the simple answer, Ragins says it doesn’t “deprofessionalize” what is done. Members are medicated and receive psychological and social help.

    However, Ragins says, “The same way you can help a friend who is suffering is the way you can treat a client.”

    Ragins, the bearded leader of the Village, wants nothing less than to revolutionize mental health care and perceptions.

    “This is a revolution not just for how (professionals) act or how (mentally ill) view themselves, but how the community views the mentally ill.”

    Ragins wants to see a day when the community doesn’t seek to merely put the homeless and mentally ill away and isolate and separate them, but find ways to include them.

    Ragins recalls when Lopez called. “He said, `can you give me ideas on how I can help (Ayers),”‘ Ragins said. “That was a revolutionary different call than you get from the rest of the community.”

    As Ragins was an integral part of Lopez’s book, he also will be integral in the week’s activities.

    Ragins will take part in a $100 admission panel discussion fundraiser with Lopez and others Wednesday at the Village. On Thursday, Ragins will speak at a free event at the Barnes and Noble book store, 6326 Pacific Coast Highway.

    The Village also will be involved in an event called Sending a Book on a Journey. New and used copies of “The Soloist” and other books may be dropped off Wednesday through March 13 at Long Beach Reads events and city libraries for distribution to Village members to encourage them to read the books and pass them along to others.

    greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291

    Here’s the link to the original article

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    March 22, 2010 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , ,

    1 Comment »

    1. My name is Debbie, and i am looking at becoming homeless, and don’t know what to do.

      I am also very disabled, and have as mental illness, or several, and need help.

      Comment by Deborah Wesson | October 4, 2010 | Reply


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