Franklin James Cook

Innovative Home for the Mentally Ill Named for Suicide Victim

In Mental Illness on February 19, 2009 at 9:56 am

ORIGINAL STORY — In a story in the Chicago Tribune, reporter Ted Gregory tells about Joanna’s Lodge in Winfield, Ill., “a place that takes a somewhat unconventional but promising approach to empowering and improving the lives of people with mental illness.”

“To me, there’s such a pride in the people who live there,” said Mary Lou Lowry, executive director of NAMI DuPage. Joanna’s Lodge is named for Lowry’s daughter, who committed suicide after a psychotic break in 2003. “They’re always so warm and welcoming. They’re so happy to be there, and when they move on, there’s a huge celebration.”

Joanna’s Lodge was started in 2007 and is the only facility of its kind in Illinois. It follows the Fairweather Lodge model, now being used in 10 states, which “is based on research done in the early 1960s by psychologist George Fairweather.”

Conducting research among people with mental illness at Veterans Administration hospitals across the country, Fairweather found that leadership and problem-solving could be developed in small groups. That work led to the Fairweather Lodge model …

Activity is fundamental to Joanna’s Lodge, a “training campus” where four to eight residents with chronic mental illness receive intensive training in life skills and team building for up to six months and then graduate to a home where they live together in groups of four. During their campus stay, residents learn, among other skills, meal planning, budgeting, medication and stress management, employment and social skills, conflict resolution and problem solving. Lodge residents select a captain, treasurer, secretary and meal captain every week. Every day they hold member council meetings to discuss household issues of the day. By the time they graduate, they also must have a job.

“It empowers them to feel much better about themselves,” said Susan Simonsen, executive director of New Beginnings Community Services, Inc., the organization running Joanna’s Lodge. “Now, they have a purpose. They have a lot of self-esteem. They feel like an active member of society, and they deserve that.”

Esther Onaga of Michigan State University says that the approach instituted through the Fairweather Lodge model causes small groups of residents to become “an intentional community of support.”

[She] said people who graduate from Fairweather lodges return to mental health institutions much less frequently than those discharged from conventional institutions. Lodge graduates also hold jobs, a rarity for residents of more conventional homes, she said. In addition, Fairweather Lodges and the homes affiliated with them cost less to run than conventional homes for the mentally ill.

Those measurable outcomes suggest that investing in the empowerment of the mentally ill pays off. Even more than that, the approach used at Joanna’s Lodge meets basic human needs that often are neglected in other institutional settings.

“So many times people with mental illness have been limited in not being able to follow their dreams,” Lowry said. “So many have forgotten their dreams. We hope this will encourage them to get back their dreams and get back their lives.”

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