Friendship, music and laughter are what bring people together at the Dual Diagnosis Centre at Providence Care, a vibrant and energetic activities room filled with costumes, games, arts and crafts, and comfy chairs. This is the home of a caring and innovative program where inpatients of Providence Care, Mental Health Services can go to socialize, be with friends and at the same time develop their social and communication skills in a safe environment with peer and staff support.
The Centre promotes recovery through activities that develop skills for everyday living. It currently hosts weekly skills-building groups on social skills, sign language, drama, music and laughter. Client participants also enjoy special activities such as Wii bowling, iPad interactive games, dancing and trips into the community.
“The smiles on their faces say it all,” described Jamie Powers, a Recreation staff with the Centre. One client and regular attendee commented, “I couldn’t think of a better place to be.” And another added that, “it always puts you in a good mood.”
Staff and volunteers all agree that the Centre has a remarkable effect on their spirit and overall well-being of client attendees and this sentiment is echoed by the clients themselves; one of whom said, “Here we live and we learn and everyone seems to change for the best.”
“The Dual Diagnosis Centre is a major part of clients’ lives,” explained Gord Unsworth, a facilitator of the program. “They take ownership of it and responsibility for it by looking after the space and each other. Most of all, they take pride in coming to such a fun place.”
Since inception in 2007, the Dual Diagnosis Centre has focused on addressing the unique and complex needs of dually-diagnosed patients who have both an intellectual disability and a mental health illness. The program is not mandatory, but based on clients’ choice and the interest generated through word-of-mouth. As time went on, the Centre’s success and upbeat atmosphere drew the interest of other clients at Providence Care and thus expanded its services to include those from other inpatient programs.
“Back when we first started we had no allocated staff and no budget,” said Ann Toman-Torre, an Occupational Therapist among a small team first mandated to test this model as a pilot project in 2007. “We simply wanted to find a unique way to help our dually-diagnosed clients, many of whom have the longest inpatient bed stay and struggle with transition back into the community.”
Today, the Dual Diagnosis Centre is supported by a team of health professionals, volunteers, students and a full-time, dedicated staff member in Lisa Quanz, a Recovery Guide for the program. Together, they all work towards the common goal of improving the overall quality of life for each client. And often, staff who work with these clients on the wards also support them in recovery at the Centre.
“This helps foster a rapport between clients and staff,” said Quanz. “There is a mutual respect being built here. We get to know their personalities and moods; we earn their trust and friendship.”
Through Providence Care’s teaching affiliations with Queen’s University, Master’s of Science (Occupational Therapy) students Caroline Chenoweth and Ilana Reichman are currently completing a portion of their 8-week mental health placements at the Dual Diagnosis Centre.
“It’s been such a positive experience,” said Reichman. “We learn about mental health in school, but class is different from real life. The first-hand experience removes stigma surrounding mental health.” Reichman added that her experience at the Dual Diagnosis Centre has inspired her to actively pursue a career in mental health.
Her classmate Chenoweth agreed. “The opportunity to learn from experience is priceless. In practice, there’s no one way to work with clients. Every person is unique,” she said.
The Dual Diagnosis Centre is strengthened by the continued support from the Kingston community. It has volunteers of all ages and walks of life, from high school students to university graduates to retirees. Peer support is also vital to the success of the Centre. Often, clients want to give back to the program and attend as peer helpers. “Here, clients become friends,” described Quanz. “They get to know each other, complement each other and care for each other.”
This article was previously published in Kingston This Week.