Next time you’re in a group, look around. One of every four people in the room will have a mental health issue at some point in their life. When you widen the circle to include those of us who love, work, or interact with people experiencing a mental health issue, it’s safe to say mental illness touches us all in one way or another.
Despite its prevalence, having a mental health crisis is still a source of shame for nearly everyone. The World Health Organization says two thirds of those with a mental illness will never seek help from a health professional. Organizations like Reliance Health, Inc. are trying to change that.
Started as a “leisure center” more than 30 years ago—a place of support and safety for those returning to the community after a stay in Norwich Hospital in Norwich, Connecticut—Reliance Health now runs over 30 programs and serves more than 1,000 adults each year. In 2017 they attended a Nonprofit Retreat at Omega and re-envisioned their wellness initiative, which is now getting practical tools for health and wellness into the hands of hundreds of people each day.
A People-First, Wellness-Oriented Approach
An important part of Reliance Health’s success is their focus on creating a respectful culture that recognizes any one of us could be the one struggling with a mental health issue. "We look at the person as a whole," says Carrie Dyer, Reliance Health’s chief operating officer. "We use people-first language, which is respectful and puts a face to the person we’re talking about. Rather than referring to people as clients, we’ll call them members, or we say, 'the people we serve,' or just use their name instead of defining them by their diagnosis. We also often refer to what we do as mental wellness. We believe good overall health starts with good mental wellness and that your mental wellness is affected by your overall health.”
The agency offers conventional and nontraditional approaches to treatment and in recent years has implemented an initiative to emphasize programs that directly and indirectly support overall health and mental wellness. They offer activities that encourage self-care, healthy eating, physical activity, mindfulness practice, and more.
"If you know how to go out and take a walk in nature or eat a little better, those things are going to contribute to your overall health. We help people try new things, like yoga or Zumba or meditation, in a safe environment so they can have more resources available to support their physical and mental wellness," says Dyer.
Refining a Successful Program
After their wellness initiative had been up and running for a few years, the organization realized they’d achieved many of the original goals and the program needed an overhaul. Dyer, who had previously been a guest at Omega, knew there were some lessons to be learned from how Omega incorporates wellness and a holistic approach into its campus experience.
She also knew about Omega’s Nonprofit Retreats—a program that gives nonprofits the space and support they need to facilitate self-led organizational development retreats—so their organization applied. "When I heard we got accepted, I cried! I was really excited that my coworkers were going to get the experience of walking onto this campus and seeing what it's about."
In May of 2017, a total of 18 staff and board members from Reliance Health spent several days at Omega. Their goal was to reinvigorate their wellness initiative to include more holistic approaches.
The executive team reported, "During our retreat we not only achieved our goal, we exceeded all of our expectations! We developed a plan to host a wellness retreat that will recreate our Omega Institute experience for the individuals we serve."
In early October of 2017, they hosted their first Wellness Retreat at the McPherson Outdoor Education Center in Quaker Hill, Connecticut. The daylong event offered a number of holistic classes and services, including massage, meditation, drumming, guided hikes, Reiki, reflexology, and plein air painting. There was also an “Omega-inspired" lunch featuring healthy and seasonal soups, salads, and snacks. Over 80 individuals attended the inaugural event. Reliance Health plans to host this event yearly to continue to introduce a myriad of wellness activities and experiences to their community.
"None of this would have been possible without the support and inspiration that we received from the Omega Institute," said Dyer.