By Katie Sobiech
Daily, the Community Support Services (CSS) building is busy with clients waiting to receive help to be stable enough just to make it through the day.
CSS, a local, mental health non-profit agency, sits on Cross Street, providing crucial services to many facing severe mental health issues. Without CSS, their world would be entirely different.
Jessica Sikorski, a 25 year old client at CSS, can’t thank this organization enough.
Sikorski struggles with borderline personality disorder, bi-polar 2 disorder and depression. Getting by day-to-day is hard enough, let alone managing to get and keep a job and handle all of the other challenges life can bring.
“If I didn’t have CSS, I wouldn’t have no one because I grew up without my family. I grew up in CSB, so to have this support means everything to me,” Sikorski said.
Sikorski was diagnosed at just 8 years old and introduced to CSS at 17.
A Day in the Life
The agency’s staff assists individuals so that they can live as independently as possible.
When asked what a day in her life is like, Sikorski answered “It’s very complex”. But she has found CSS to be a life saver.
Sikorski says that keeping a routine prevents “chaos” from occurring. She attends her group at CSS every day, goes to therapy once a week and sees a doctor once a month. Her job “coach” is with her throughout the day and she also gets help with transportation.
“They truly make sure you have what you need and if you don’t have what you need they’re trying everything they can do to make sure you’re ok,” Sikorski said.
Out of all of the services they offer, she has found group therapy to be the most helpful. And that is where you will find her for 3 hours every day.
“For those 3 hours I feel safe,” Sikorski said.
“With that, I can gain my support that I need to go home and be alright. It’s harder in my life to be alone, so the benefits I get from here make me feel safe at home and not so alone,” she continued.
Breaking Stereotypes and Stigmas
The stigma around mental illness is one of the biggest problems they face.
“I hate to say it in 2012, but the stigma is huge. Unfortunately people (with mental illness) don’t want to share it with their families. Sometimes family members have very negative perceptions of mental illness. The media sometimes portrays people as…words I don’t even want to use…like nuts and crazy and those things,” Kimberly Mills, Director of Quality Education Marketing at Community Support Services, said.
“We get this image of someone who is violent or going to hurt people. But we truly know that clients here and certainly anyone with mental illness is more likely to be victimized than they are to be the victimizer. So unfortunately it gets portrayed as they’re violent,” Mills continued.
“There’s a big stigma against us. If we didn’t have this service here, a lot of us would probably end up dead or in jail or in other terrible situations,” Sikorski said.
These stigmas even hurt them when trying to find employment.
“You don’t want to think there’s discrimination but unfortunately it’s out there at times. So we have some employment programs that will work with people to help them find employers who have an interest and kind of take people in and work with them,” Mills said.
“There’s a job coach component of our employment. When somebody is first placed, for a period of time, they can have a job coach just to help adjust to working,” Mills continued.
Sikorski says they can “Actually get jobs that society wouldn’t give us on their own because of the stigma they have against our symptoms.”
Support is Crucial to Mental Well-Being
“It helps us a lot because we’re accepted here. We’re accepted for anything. If we have bipolar or if we have schizophrenia we’re accepted. All the benefits I’ve had from here have helped me grow,” Sikorski said.
Sikorski’s favorite thing about CSS is the genuine people and their reliability.
“Everyone made me feel really comfortable here. I felt like this is where I’m gonna get my success from because I’ve never had a better support system in my life,” Sikorski said.
“They genuinely care here. If I never would have come here, what would my life be like?” she continued.
“I took advantage of every opportunity I had here and became really successful,” Sikorski said, “I just got a job through CSS. I’m pretty sure that without CSS it would have been impossible.”
Coaches are onsite to help CSS clients get adjusted to their new jobs, since it can be quite challenging to manage symptoms while doing a full day’s work.
“Because we have CSS we have a lot of clients that are becoming more successful, healthier,” Sikorski said.
They are also linked in with an area YMCA and classes to get in shape and stay healthy.
“I am thrilled to say that next year the agency will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. We’re looking forward to a year of celebration. Lots of things are being planned right now. Lots of exciting things. We’re really looking to celebrate the 25 years in the community and all the support we have from so many entities,” Mills said.
And they welcome the community to be a part of their service too.
“We always love volunteers,” Mills said.
Lives are being changed every day by this organization, and you can be a part of it.
“CSS has been the biggest support in my life ever, out of everyone I’ve ever met. I hope they can continue getting the funds that they get to help us because without a mental illness facility that would help people, we’d be nowhere, we’d be lost. So I’d just like to thank everyone at CSS for helping me,” Sikorski said.
For more info go to: http://www.cssbh.org