September is National Recovery Month, as announced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "In its 25th year, Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment, and recovery for mental and substance use disorders. This year’s theme, "Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out," encourages people to openly speak up about mental and substance use disorders and the reality of recovery, and promotes ways individuals can use to recognize behavioral health and substance abuse issues and reach out for help. "Recovery Month spreads the positive messages that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover”, according to the SAMSHA press release.
History of Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs at Washington County Mental Health Services
In Central Vermont, these positive messages have been consistent and enduring within Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS) and have been central to the development of co-occurring mental health and substance abuse services. In November, 1996, the first co-occurring “Welcoming Group” started within the Community Support Program (CSP). In 1998, the “Tools and Skills Recovery Group” started, and soon thereafter, the “Pizza Group” started for residents of Segue House and for clients living independently in the community. In response to identifying the unique issues of women with addiction and trauma histories, a Women’s Recovery Group was initiated in collaboration between CSP and the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (Adult Outpatient). Likewise, when it was recognized that individuals enrolled in CSP were 2-3 times more likely to be addicted to nicotine than individuals in the general adult Vermont population, the Stop Smoking Group was created to help consumers quit smoking.
Today, almost ten years later, five different co-occurring groups and one smoking cessation group meet weekly to support consumers of mental health services who are working on the difficult process of recovering from addiction to alcohol and drugs, as well as addiction to nicotine. These groups are available to adults who are served by the agency, primarily through the Community Support Program and the Adult Outpatient Program.
Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment Recovery Groups:
Washington County Mental Health Services hopes to make our Recovery groups as welcoming and accessible as possible. We invite consumers to attend recovery groups which will welcome and support individuals in any stage of recovery. These groups meet weekly and will help group members develop programs of recovery so that mental illness and abuse of substances do not interfere with their lives. Groups are designed to meet member’s needs, wherever they are, in their process of recovery and treatment, and whether they are attending because they are required to do so, or because they have initiated the process to get help. There are some groups for just men, and groups for just women; other groups are co-ed. We also offer a smoking cessation group for recovery from nicotine addiction.
Furthermore, the purpose of our groups is to support adult consumers in dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues, and to help them look at how substance abuse affects their lives. Participants explore ways to achieve abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and build sober lives. Group members support each other in working toward growth, self-awareness, and self-worth, and help each other to learn more about themselves and their relationships with others. The goals of the groups are: to help members learn about addiction, mental illness, and the recovery process, develop a recovery program, and make a commitment to lasting change through the support of the group. Transportation is available to help members attend groups.
The following are brief descriptions of the Recovery Groups, and some “Voices of Recovery” from those who are participating in the groups (due to confidentiality names of group members are changed):
The Monday Welcoming Group is a treatment group for men in early recovery which meets at 9 Heaton St., in Montpelier, from 3:00-4:00pm on Mondays. Drop-ins are welcome. Kevin says “I haven’t used alcohol or drugs for over a year and a half, because I’ll lose my partner and my family….and I think about using every day!”
The Women’s Recovery Group is a treatment group for women in early recovery which meets at Adult Outpatient in Berlin, from 10:00-11:00am on Tuesdays. Referral is by contact with Laurie or Amy, the Group Leaders. Laurie, the Group Leader, shares, “The women in the group value the safety and support that the group offers and they return each week because of the relationships they have with us and with each other.”
The Segue House “Pizza” Group is a group for residents in treatment at Segue House, and men and women in early recovery in the community. The groups meet at Segue House, Montpelier from 12:00-1:00pm on Mondays and Wednesdays. Drop-ins are welcome on Wednesdays. Annie says “I have been sober for over 10 years. With Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, my sponsor, the people who have supported me, and my Higher Power, I am able to stay sober one day at a time”.
The Tools and Skills Group is an active treatment and relapse prevention group for men and women with sustained sobriety. The group meets at 9 Heaton St. Montpelier from 9:45-10:45am on Thursdays. Referral is by Contact with Bill or Sam, the Group Leaders. Jack shared, “Two of us have been attending this group almost every week for the last 14 years. The group has been important to maintaining my sobriety for almost 18 years, despite my occasional symptoms of mental illness.”
The Stop Smoking Group is a co-educational smoking cessation group for men and women who need support to stop smoking. The group meets at Sunrise House, 157 Barre St. Montpelier from 1:30-2:30pm, on Tuesdays. Drop-ins are welcome. Linda says, “My sister and I helped each other quit smoking at about the same time. I have been smoke free for over 6 years and I am doing great!”
Additionally, WCMHS works to collaborative with other treatment providers, and to open up a variety of avenues of treatment for the consumers we serve. A strong collaboration exists between WCMHS and Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services, as well as between WCMHS and other addiction treatment providers in the community.
Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment outcomes are also being tracked on a monthly basis, to better understand what works for participating individuals. As of June, 2014, 31 members were participating in Recovery Groups of whom 14 were working on their recovery and remaining sober. Additionally, 7 members were participating in the Stop Smoking Group, of whom 3 were smoke free, and were attending group for support with cravings.
WCMHS Adopts a Tobacco Free Policy
Washington County Mental Health Services is also committed to the overall health of our employees, clients, family members, and the community, and committed to addressing nicotine addiction and its impact in the work place and in the community. Recently we joined many other health care organizations in Vermont to revise and establish a Tobacco Free Policy effective July 1, 2014. This policy was adopted “to promote a safe and healthy environment for our employees, clients, family members and visitors,” and to address the health risks of second hand smoke in the work place, to discourage smoking behavior in and around agency facilities and programs, to encourage smokers to take advantage of agency resources to help them to quit smoking. It also represents a major step to make a healthy change in the culture of the mental health community, considering the long history of smoking as a way of coping with mental illness.
For more information about Co-Occurring Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services, Recovery Groups, and Stop Smoking Groups, contact Bill Fagginger-Auer, at (802) 223-6328.
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