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Helping clients, combating stigma

There’s vacancy at the Lincoln County LifeSkills Center, butthere probably shouldn’t be.

The daytime mental health facility’s three programs areoperating at about half capacity, with an average of 12 peopleattending its daily services for various forms of mental health anddevelopmental disabilities.

It’s not because there are no mental patients to enroll. It’sprobably because of what the neighbors will say.

“Stigma is one of the hardest things we deal with in ourbusiness,” said Dr. Steve Ellis, executive director of theSouthwest Mississippi Mental Health Complex (Region 11), whichadministers LifeSkills. “People will say, ‘I don’t want to go upthere, people will think I’m crazy.’ A lot of mental patients aresitting at home and not in a program.”

Mental patients not only have to deal with their own illnesses,but often times have to deal with other people’s perception of it,Ellis said. It’s a long-standing wall of thought that’s hard topunch through, and it means community-based mental health serviceslike the LifeSkills facility have empty chairs that could behelping someone.

In a time when Mississippi faces criticism from within andwithout about its reliance on institutionalized mental health careand lack of home- and community-based services, LifeSkills programsare available in the heart of Brookhaven and can take onapproximately 24 more clients right now. The facility held an openhouse Thursday in honor of National Intellectual and DevelopmentalDisabilities Awareness Month, trying to get the word out about itsservices.

“There’s a waiting list at other places, and individuals canaccess care here immediately,” said Rita Brown Bobkoskie, Long TermServices Director for Region 11. “For people with mentally illchildren or parents, we allow them the opportunity to have thatindividual involved in activities outside the home, maintainingtheir independence in their communities and preventing them fromgoing into an institutional setting.”

The center’s three treatment programs are broken down based onlevel of disability and age, with a Day Support and Club Houseprogram for clients with severe mental illness, retardation,developmental disabilities and substance abuse problems; and anElderly Services Program for those over age 50 with mentaldisabilities.

“They eat, maintain friendships, socialize, take stressmanagements, go on community outings – we’re not a baby sitterservice. We treat them as adults,” Bobkoskie said.

The programs offer psychiatric and psychological rehabilitation,socialization and life skills training, community education andmore. The LifeSkills center operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily,and has its own vehicles to transport clients, with routes coveringLincoln County and extending into Franklin and Lawrencecounties.

Financially, the LifeSkills center is for everyone. Medicaidcovers 100 percent of the services, and those without insurancecoverage pay the center based on a sliding scale – those who don’tmake much money don’t pay much money. The Lincoln County LifeSkillsCenter and other community mental health operations operate in thered when they have to.

For more information on the Lincoln County LifeSkills Center,interested people may call the facility at 601-833-8605.