As I work with other people who have a diagnosis of a serious mental health condition I observe two elements of successful recovery behavior that are both obvious and overlooked -- kindness and courtesy. The small recovery and vocational preparation club my colleagues and I lead have two weekly meetings. We call each other by our given names and refer to one another as colleagues, members and friends. BrainStorm encourages its members to keep in touch outside of the formal meetings via email, telephone, texting and of course face-to-face. If someone knows they are going to be late or absent to a meeting, they are expected to let us know in advance and tell us what is happening that is creating an attendance issue. We strongly encourage one another to follow through on commitments to the group. Potential employers and schools expect these attitudes and actions.
It’s a bit of a generalization, but on the road from despair, suicidal thinking or actions, anger and frustration with therapists who don’t listen very well and a chronic shortage of competent and compassionate psychiatrists it is very gratifying to hear words such as "please" and "thank you." It’s nice to see subtle smiles and nods of affirmation from regular attendees who are making the transition from isolation and loneliness to inclusion and celebration of strength. And it’s always good to hear about the positive things someone’s doctor, therapist or family member is saying or doing in their interactions with us. We recently had dinner together at a local restaurant that one our quietest and often most depressed members had suggested. Enjoying 90 minutes of conversation over a meal of Mexican cuisine, the gentleness and respect we showed one another was very much in evidence.
Summer is now in full swing. Club attendance is down. Moods still swing, panic attacks fade and return and unseen voices continue to interrupt our recovery. A self-help and strengths-based approach is most effective when courtesy and friendship is the common practice. Members and guests who have an ‘it’s all about me’ attitude, have unrealistic expectations and are not willing to put forth the effort needed to discover meaningful work and come away from our meetings or similar peer-run programs disgruntled and frustrated.
The member who chose the restaurant made an interesting comment to the group during the meal in a voice that barely rose above a whisper: “I hope you will want me back after my vacation trip.” We loudly and cheerfully told her, “Of course we want you back! You’re our friend, your one of us!”
This is all the more meaningful knowing that outside of the club she has no friends, something that has been status quo for her during most of her life. Always prompt to meetings and classes, this member is fluent in courtesy and always gracious in the midst of social awkwardness and dark moods.
Whether one is a peer service provider or licensed professional with many years of work experience in the field, an engaging smile, courteous language and being more human than clinical is healthy. The same could be said for front office staff and family members. These attitudes and actions cost nothing, but are worth a small fortune as we walk together on the road to wellness.