A grant totaling $729,000 over three years is aimed at helping those with mental illness in Clinton County move beyond their diagnoses.

The new program, one of several in New York state and tagged the Recovery Center, has started out under the umbrella of the National Alliance on Mental Illness: Champlain Valley.

The Plattsburgh-based organization, which offers assistance through its advocacy program, depression screening in schools and support groups, wrote the application and was awarded funding through the Clinton County Community Service Board. That entity subcontracts such initiatives with local agencies, said NAMI-Champlain Valley Executive Director Amanda Bulris.

NATURAL SUPPORTS

To Bulris, the Recovery Center movement makes tremendous sense.

"It's helping people create an idea of self worth and self esteem, so they can be part of the community," she said.

The Recovery Center is a virtual program. Rather than working in a central location, "staff members will be in the community … helping others explore their passions and desires, maybe school, art, cooking."

Combined with basic skill building and other supports, those efforts, she said, will allow participants to join society in productive and fulfilling ways.

"It's about creating natural supports in the community."

PEER DRIVEN

In the near future, NAMI will hire a program director to get the Recovery Center off the ground, Bulris said.

"That person will go out into the community, assess the needs of consumers and craft the programs based on the assessment."

By September, all five employees should be aboard, she said. Among them will be a benefits adviser with expertise in such complicated issues as Medicaid, returning to the workforce and enrolling in college.

A skills builder will work in the community, assisting clients with basic elements of independence.

And there will be peer positions, people who will befriend participants, giving them encouragement and support.

All the positions, Bulris said, including those on an advisory committee, will be held by people who themselves have mental-illness diagnoses.

"People who have been there, done that, can understand better what someone else is dealing with," she said.

"Studies have shown that it works."

WARMLINE

Year 2 of the funding, Bulris continued, will include the creation of a "warmline" that will fill a much-needed void.

Clinton County has a suicide hotline, but a "warmline" would give support to those who are struggling in some way yet aren't despondent.

People with mental illness are often segregated from the rest of society, she said, and the resulting loneliness can very much contribute to depression and other manifestations of the disease.

"I'm sure many of the calls on the suicide hotline are just people who are very lonely," she said.

A friendly, supportive voice, she said, can make all the difference.

Such community supports, she noted, translate into fewer hospitalizations.

The Department of Mental Health expects that after the three years of grant money runs out, the Recovery Center will be self-supporting, Bulris said.

Even so, then and now, NAMI's other offerings run parallel to the Recovery Center's aims.

"Our programs will be working together."

FUNDING DILEMMA

While the grant more than doubles NAMI's annual budget of about $120,000, Bulris emphasized that it doesn't pay for anything now in place. Those costs include insurance, rent and salaries for five employees.

NAMI doesn't know year to year where its funding will come from, Bulris said. For example, the Foundation at CVPH paid for depression screening at schools last year, a program that has proved helpful in identifying kids at risk and getting them referred to help, she said. After June, only partial funding is in place, from the United Way.

Other funding comes from the Community Service Board, Clinton County Youth Bureau and other sources, along with fundraisers designed not only to bring in money but to educate the public about mental illness in the hopes of eliminating the stigma associated with it.

FIGHTING STIGMA

The annual Anti-Stigma Concert, held recently at Therapy Nightclub in Plattsburgh, brought in about $700.

But more important was the message, Bulris said. Several bands from the area performed but also shared stories about mental-health issues.

"One member has ADHD and bipolar," she said.

Another group lost a musician to suicide a few months ago and played a moving song they'd written in his memory.

A large-screen TV throughout the evening showed many famous Americans with mental illness who are able to achieve great things.

The Recovery Center grant will give others the chance to do the same.

"If given the right direction and the right social and natural supports they can lead just as functioning a life as any other person without a disability," Bulris said.

So the grant, she said, "is very awesome."

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

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