Service on the Other Side

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Durham in North Carolina and Durham in the UK are 3754 miles apart. In the past couple of weeks in Waddington Street Centre, I have realized that this number could be deceiving: the support I receive from the staff members, the welcome I get from the members/service users, and the motivation for both organizations to contribute to people with mental illnesses remain very similar, if not the exact same. Yet at the same time, the 3754 miles of distance is a perfect reflection of the difference between these two organizations. Since Threshold and Waddington Street Centre belong to different countries and are thus restricted by different policies, the aspiration to help mental health patients could translate to very different structures, operations, and even purposes.

As a mental illness clubhouse, Threshold is a very employment-oriented organization: most of the tasks and activities provided were geared towards cultivating a sense of independence and preparing members to be reintegrated into the work force. Furthermore, partnerships with local businesses provide transitional employment positions for qualified members. After my six-week internship, I was left with a very strong impression of the importance of having a job to recover from mental illnesses. Yet when we started in Waddington Street Centre, employment was surprisingly missing from the major purposes. All the programs provided are unrelated to job skills. A variety of courses ranging from painting to badminton are focused on developing relaxing hobbies for members. The organization does not actively encourage seeking employment opportunities. In fact, over the past years, only one service user has landed on a job.

This huge difference in organizational purpose implies very different understanding on mental illness recovery. While talking with the manager of Waddington Street Centre, the major concern brought up against working is the high stress level in workplaces that could be detrimental to people who are already mentally vulnerable. While employment was seen as a positive influence in mental illness recovery in Threshold, it is treated with caution, and sometimes even as a potential threat in Waddington Street Centre. Their view is not without reasons: the only service user who started working ended up being in much worse conditions than before he started.

Yet the most important reason for such difference could well be durhamnational policies and local demographics. Back in North Carolina, most of the mental health patients we served came from a very humble socioeconomic background: some members were illiterate, many did not have above high school education, and almost all were struggling financially. Without a job, they could barely cover their daily expenses with the SSI they are receiving. Thus, employment becomes a necessity. Without employment, it is likely that their finance situation would cause even higher stress level than that of the workplace. In the UK, people with mental disabilities could easily survive on welfare if they plan their budgeting rationally. Furthermore, many service users have received decent education, and would be likely unwilling to accept entry-level positions provided for people with disabilities.

It is really interesting to observe such a variation in organizational purpose in the two facilities. Yet we can be assured that the love for puppies works the same everywhere. Zoey, Bennie (therapy dogs in Threshold) and Waddington (the manager’s puppy) would always receive superstar-welcome whenever they visit; time spent with them would probably also top the chart of the most amazing DukeEngage moments.

—Stella Zhang

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