Seek schizophrenia support from a drop-in center

Consumer-run centers help those with serious mental illness become part of their communities again.

Since the 1980s, consumer-run drop-in centers for people with serious mental illness have popped up in nearly every metropolitan area in the U.S.

Supported by grants from mental health or other local organizations, these drop-in centers are run by and for people with mental illness. To qualify as consumer-run, more than half of the decision-makers must be people who use mental health services.

The basic idea behind consumer-run drop-in centers is that when “consumers” are in charge, they empower themselves and others.

Instead of clinical support, the drop-in centers offer safe, unstructured environments where people with mental illness can interact with each other. Typically the only requirement is proof of a diagnosis.

Depending on members’ needs and interests, the centers also offer recovery-oriented activities.

These might include peer-run support groups, member-led arts and crafts projects, social events or computer training. Centers may also offer such perks as free phone service or laundry facilities.

Some centers also encourage members to engage in advocacy activities. Members can help each other obtain housing, transportation or other government services, for example. Or they can educate the public about mental health issues. By helping others, say proponents, members are also helping themselves.

Antistigma efforts are often another priority. Members may host community gatherings at centers or participate in local events.

One center invites the entire community to participate in yoga classes, for instance—an activity that helps the public understand that people with serious mental illnesses can recover.