Astra opens new drop-in center

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By John Singleton

A local health facility has recently opened a center for the mentally disabled as well as for those in need.

Astra Behavioral Health has provided a space, called a drop-in center, within the basement of its facility, for people to come and go as they please and feel welcome in society, said Clinical Director Sherri Bunch. What she hopes is to gain people who are so mentally ill that they are without the motivation or routine to constantly take medication on their own.

“We just really want it to be a place that provides a safe and supportive environment for people,” she said. “We want them to feel comfortable and feel like they’re just sitting in a living room.”

Bunch said the center is not ready yet; however, the facility already has six participants in a group setting. She said the groups will be entirely “consumer-driven,” which means the participants will decide what topics the groups will discuss. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“Hopefully, if they feel comfortable in that kind of environment, then they will feel comfortable with everyone else around them and can make medication and therapy appointments with us while they are here,” she said.

Also, case management will be offered to assist participants in finding the resources they need, so “if they are homeless, they will get the help they need to not be homeless,” Bunch said.

Each participant makes his or her own decision about when to come to the center, when to leave, with whom to interact, or even to watch television. These decisions may seem minor to outsiders, she said, but many individuals have experienced having all their decisions made for them in the mental health system; when to eat, sleep and play games, so hopefully they will be able to take control of their lives again once they gain the trust of the staff. This includes Vicki Newton, the center’s peer support specialist, who also suffers from clinical depression and anxiety.

“What makes me qualified to be a peer support specialist is that I’m mentally ill myself,” Newton said. “I want to let these people know this is a judge-free and stress-free zone.”

For more information on Astra Behavioral Health, visit www.astrabh.com.