Mon 18 Apr 2005
The first time I visited the Stevens Group I could tell that it was a center to help adults suffering from mental illnesses. My first actual contact with any person at the Stevens Group was a schizophrenic man. He didn’t seem to fulfill the stereotypically portrayed schizophrenic, a raving mad-person with a violent predisposition. He was quite sociable, calm, and well mannered completely opposite of the aforementioned view. There were other adults suffering from schizophrenia, plus there were a couple of other mental illnesses I could identify. Chronic clinical depression, and bi-polar disorder were the two other illnesses that were prevalent among the Stevens Group members. With these two mental illnesses there were also stereotypic views that I was aware of. For clinical depression: there is a common stereotype in which the person suffering from the illness is constantly suicidal, and has a morbid outlook on life. None of the members I met suffering from depression had a morbid outlook on life, and certainly did not seem suicidal. The only reason I knew these members were suffering from depression was that the voluntarily told me so. Persons with bi-polar are often viewed as out of control; a common assumption around bi-polar disorder is that people suffering from it will snap at any moment and become incredibly hostile or have multiple personalities and such. Again, much like the members with depression, the members with bi-polar disorder did not fulfill any of the stereotypical views. Additionally, and member that I knew to suffer from bi-polar, told me on a voluntary basis, so I’d like to think I would never have known if I had not been told.
The Stevens Group was an extremely rewarding organization to work with. They faculty and members of the group are very receptive to volunteers, and they are incredibly friendly. Additionally, members are very open with volunteers as far as sharing the events of their lives and talking about their mental illnesses. After a couple of visits, I started to feel very comfortable with the members of the Steven’s Group. It was a great feeling knowing that I would be able to step into the facility and not be ignored because I was a volunteer. Benefits of the agency, as far as the members within the agency experience, seemed to be pretty simple, but incredibly useful. The Stevens Group organizes the facility in a way so that each member has a task of cooking, cleaning, or some other daily action. The group also helps the create a healthy living regimen for the members. For example, wake up then brush your teeth, get dressed, eat some breakfast, etc. things that I have taken for granted, but actually help in the everyday functioning of the members. Overall, I believe the Stevens Group helps structure the members’ lives so that when they do enter the working force, it will not come as a complete system shock to them.
To me, the members of the Stevens Group really didn’t need a whole lot of help from the volunteers. If I were in their shoes, however, I would really appreciate volunteers from the college coming in to become informed of what its really like to deal with having a mental illness. Many of the members hang out at the ‘square’ in front of the court house, I have heard from Dickinson Students that “the people at the square are crazy” in a derogatory tone. On the flipside, however, the members have describes the students at Dickinson as mean and ignorant. I think the biggest benefit the members of the Stevens group received from having the Dickinson volunteers come to visit, was a clearer look into how some students are not ignorant, but willing to learn. The company we gave to some of the members could also have impacted them in a positive way, just by having simple contact with people from outside the group.
As mentioned before, the members often have to face negative stereotypes by ‘normative’ society. In addition to the stereotypes they are labeled with, many times society can view them as mentally challenged, and therefore dis-functioning humans. An argument can be made that society often views adults suffering from mental illness as sub-human. The mentality that follows this could be, “If your not like me your not-normal,” otherwise known as “retarded.” Despite all the negative feedback the members get from society they are still trying to integrate themselves into it. This is admirable, but at the same time it is saddening. Local communities should welcome people experiencing mental illness into the working force, and work with them to make working life a good experience. Yet, as it is now, local communities tend to expect everyone to accommodate the community ‘norm,’ which isn’t without its problems.
Volunteering at the Stevens Group, in some ways, has helped me understand the material we have been covering in class. But on the whole, I feel as if the experiences I have at the Stevens Center are separate from those I have in the classroom. There are times when I think of how the ‘normate,’ introduced in Extraordinary Bodies, affects the members of the group. Moreover, how many of the students from Dickinson have their own view of what ‘normate’ is, and the way the represent, and try to conform to it. I often find myself paying closer attention to my actions, and their relation to what is thought to be normal. To me, the experiences I have had at the Stevens Group, have always related back to the definition of what society deems normal, and the ‘normate’ body in Extraordinary Bodies.