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Peer-run recovery center opens

An official says it's no substitute for professional treatment.

Published February 27, 2007


LARGO - New Beginnings Recovery Center, a support organization run for people with mental illnesses by peers who have faced those problems themselves, opens today.

The center will offer services to augment professional psychiatric care, said Tom Riggs, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit agency, Directions for Mental Health, which donated money, insurance and a building at its Oakwoods Center.

Center members will have a chance to participate in art, games, movies and support groups and to learn about community resources. Membership is $3 a year and is open to anyone with a psychiatric condition.

"It's an opportunity for socialization, an opportunity for people who are managing their illness to be able to inspire hope in others and help them to see that they too can manage their own mental illness," Riggs said Monday.

"It's not a substitute for treatment or professional psychiatric evaluation, or medication maintenance, but it really is empowering in terms of these folks being able to help others."

Initially the facility will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays, but organizers hope to expand the hours to seven days a week if additional funding becomes available.

Directions for Mental Health case manager assistant Lori Thomas and client representative Lisa Poutre were the driving forces behind the new center, Riggs said.

Thomas said "peer-run" recovery centers offer help to those who may not be willing to visit a psychiatrist, or those who have progressed beyond the need for intensive therapy.

And talking to others who have similar feelings and needs is cathartic, Thomas said.

"A lot of times it's just about forcing yourself to get up and go somewhere, feeling that you belong somewhere, that you have importance and even just establishing friendships," Thomas said. "It's also about believing in one another. All of us have something we can offer to help one another."

There are benefits and drawbacks to peer-run centers, said Richard Durstein, vice president of Pinellas chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Peers can be positive role models, he said. "It tends to give them confidence that they can move forward, particularly when they see others who are doing pretty well who may be participants," Durstein said.

However, consultation with mental health experts is important, Durstein said.

"You still need somebody to provide oversight," he said. "They don't have to be there day to day, they don't have to be there at all, but (you need) somebody who is keeping track of things," Durstein said.

If you go

Grand opening

New Beginnings Recovery Center will hold a grand opening from 4 to 7 p.m. today at Directions for Mental Health, Oakwoods Center, 8823 115th Ave. N, Largo. Information on resources for mental illness will be offered and refreshments will be served. For information, call 524-4464, ext. 1700.

[Last modified February 26, 2007, 23:34:15]

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