3 Ways the Mission Helps Those Facing Mental Illness

Tony* arrived at Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities in the fall of 2015, tired, alone, confused. Though a skilled craftsman, he had difficulty keeping jobs due to a severe mental illness. He abused alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate and became a homeless traveler, wandering across the states alone and tormented.

And Tony is not alone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness—that’s approximately 250,000 people. In comparison, only 6% of Americans are severely mentally ill with such conditions as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or paranoia. However, in a recent Wilder Research study of homelessness in Minnesota, 60% of interviewees reported having a severe mental illness.

Mental health issues both create and exacerbate homelessness. People with mental illness sometimes have difficulty getting to work on time or maintaining a sufficient level of productivity. Problems at work can lead to job loss, which can create financial challenges and loss of housing and subsequent homelessness.

Union Gospel Mission is meeting that need. We’re committed to providing mental health assistance to help individuals rebuild their lives. And in the future, we’re expanding our dedication to aiding the coordination of care with other resources in the community as well as providing personalized mental health services that combine the best therapeutic practices with biblical principles.

Here are 3 ways the Mission comes alongside those facing mental illness today.

We provide basic needs. The Mission provides food, shelter, and clothing, while at the same time offering programs such as Transitional Housing, Discipleship, and our Christ Recovery Center. These programs provide structure, time, and the intellectual energy to address mental health concerns.

We help people stabilize. The Mission sees a growing number of people who have adjustment disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even delusional disorders. “Our goal is to help people stabilize, and hopefully that’s the individual’s goal, as well,” says Janet Westlund, Support Services Manager.

We help people process life experiences. The Support Services staff at the Mission offers one-on-one and group therapy sessions and utilizes therapies to help our students process traumatic experiences. Many students take advantage of equine-assisted therapy through a partnership with Acres for Life in Chisago City, Minnesota help provide healing from traumatic events and to better understand their worldview. “Trauma changes your brain chemistry,” Westlund says. “Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of mental health problems, whether it’s due to trauma or something else. But equine therapy provides one means to provide self-understanding.”

By providing basic needs, bringing stability, and helping people process past experiences, the Mission provides hope for people like Tony. “The Mission has helped me see that there are options; I don’t have to accept my way of life. My homelessness is just a life experience and I can move out of it,” Tony says. Today, he regularly meets with a therapist and has his medications managed by a doctor. He spends his days attending recovery classes and brushing up his academic skills. Despite his mental illness, Tony’s future looks bright, thanks to the support he receives from the Mission.

*Name and details have been changed.

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