GREENVILLE — Local nonprofit SafeHaven, Inc., hosted a “Faces of Recovery” lunch at its facility in Greenville on Friday.
The event featured information from members of the Tri-County Board of Mental Health Services, as well as a display of masks painted by Darke County residents who have benefited from the organization’s services.
“We’re trying to address the stigma in the community at large,” Alphonso Darden, who helps run the Faces of Recovery program out of the Sandusky Artisans Recovery Community Center in north central Ohio, said of the often striking, colorful assortment of masks. “A lot of times people in the community don’t understand how to communicate with us.”
Darden struggles with mental illness himself, he said, and sees the faces as a tool with which to get his clients’ message across.
“It gives us the opportunity to have a platform, a voice,” Darden said. “It shows that we’re creative, that we’ve still got some value, that we’ve still got something to give.”
SafeHaven, which provides support to people with mental illness, has hosted similar open houses in Sidney and Piqua recently, with the goal of giving area residents an opportunity to meet the group’s members and visit its offices. The events were made possible by a grant acknowledging the agency’s participation in the Faces of Recovery art program.
“It was really affecting people,” Darden said of attendees’ responses to the masks created by SafeHaven’s members. “People were crying; people were talking about it. People are starting to look at our community differently.”
Members painted or otherwise decorated masks to illustrate a number of themes. What does a good day look like? What does a bad day look like? How does the stigma of mental illness feel? And how important are support mechanisms? The masks were entered as a group art piece in the Tri-County Board’s annual Art of Recovery exhibit last fall and also were on display during each of SafeHaven’s open house events.
Douglas Metcalfe, executive director of SafeHaven, stressed the importance of fighting harmful attitudes about mental illness.
“There’s a lot of stigma out there that we want to be a part of breaking down,” Metcalfe said. “A lot of our members are not only dealing with the symptoms of their illness but are living in poverty as well.”
This poverty, Metcalfe said, creates barriers to those with mental illness being able to gain access to psychological as well as physical healthcare. Many can’t afford transportation to and from healthcare appointments, Metcalfe said, and even with the advent of public transportation services like Greenville Transit, they may still be unable to access resources outside the county.
“One statistic that’s really close to our hearts is that people with mental illness die 25 years younger than the rest of the population,” Metcalfe said. “But we like to see every new person who comes through our door as a new opportunity to help someone. That helps us stay grounded.”