Saturday, August 14, 1999

Mentally ill learn to cope

Class offers support and skills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Keith Watson's friend walked up to him and said he had been doing crack all day. It wasn't the first time Mr. Watson had heard this line, but this time he knew what to do about it.

        He listened, then explained to his friend that he had to check into a treatment program if he wanted life to be normal again. It worked.

        Mr. Watson, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, credits a class he took earlier this year called BRIDGES. It is designed to make people with mental illness more self-sufficient. Cincinnati is one of seven pilot sites for BRIDGES in Ohio.

        “I used some stuff I learned from class,” said Mr. Watson, who works in Clifton. “Without that, I don't think I would have been able to help him.”

        Mr. Watson's friend has what is called dual diagnosis, mental illness and substance abuse. In the BRIDGES program, people learn about many types of mental illness: schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder.

        BRIDGES stands for Building Recovery through Individual Dreams and Goals. Developed by the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers' Association, it is the first peer-taught course for people with mental illness, said Ellen Stukenberg, development director for Ohio Advocates for Mental Health, the coordinating agency for BRIDGES.

        BRIDGES covers such areas as benefits and insurance, patient rights, biology of diseases, building support systems, crisis planning, suicide prevention, medication, asser tiveness, problem-solving and spirituality.

        About 100 people statewide attended the first round of 15-week classes that began in January, and 200 will have taken the course by year's end, Ms. Stukenberg said.

        Participants say “it helped them to cope, it helped them realize they are not alone with mental illness,” she said. They also learn how to work more effectively with psychiatrists and case workers.

        The class also teaches the mentally ill to explain their experiences and needs to their families.

        “Mental illness separates people from everybody,” Ms. Stukenberg said.

        Locally, the course is taught by Debra Poteet, director of CAPE Social Club, founded in 1985. It is free to consumers of public mental health services.

        The class uses a life choices board game, medication flash cards and role playing to keep things interesting.

        “It stresses recovery,” Ms. Poteet said. “They're learning they're not alone.”

        Another woman who has taken the class, Joan Cluxton, said she uses the information when she answers the Warm Line, a 24-hour support line for people with mental illness.She suffers from schizoaffective disorder and depression.

        “It's very helpful and very enlightening about medications and some of the other mental illnesses,” she said.

        • What: BRIDGES, a 15-week class for people with mental illness.

        • When: Beginning again in early October.

        • Cost: Free.

        • Who: Call Debra Poteet at CAPE Social Club, 281-4956.

        • Where: CAPE's office, 2501 Vine St., Corryville.


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