Consumers' union: Gallik's not on his own

Friday afternoons at the small bright yellow house on Fourth Street are usually a pleasant affair. Most days find people congregating and visiting on the front porch, but on Fridays the house is particularly full.

For Will Gallik, 35, this yellow house known as the Drop In Center is more than just a place where people get a free lunch. The Center, of which Gallik is executive director, is a refuge for anyone suffering from a mental illness, a safe haven where one can go without having to worry about being judged.

Gallik is himself a mental health services consumer, a fact he discusses easily. He's quick to point out a recent important shift in terminology: Folks who were formerly "patients/clients" are now "consumers."

"The change came about because people who were labeled patients and clients were not just that; they were people," Gallik says. "They should have a choice or a role in their own treatment."

That was the first stage in shaking off the stigma of mental illness. As a matter of fact, not only are the patrons of "On Our Own"– the Center's formal name– mental health consumers, but, like Gallik, so is the majority of the staff and the Board of Directors.

The Center opened under the leadership of mental health activist Shela Silverman and others in the late '80s as an information center and place for these consumers to hang out.

"She saw it her mission to provide a place for people with psychiatric disabilities not only to receive help but to help each other," says board member Elizabeth Breeden. Now it provides other services such as stress management groups, holiday dinners, laundry facilities, twice weekly lunches, peer support groups, and food bags.

"In the same way that there was a change from chaining people with mental illness to treating them with psychotropic drugs," adds Breeden, "the movement to give voice to the very people who receive treatment is going to change psychiatry in the next era.

"People with disabilities have learned from the hospice and midwifery movement," Breeden continues, "that those who receive treatment should have the strongest voice in how treatment is regarded and delivered."

The director agrees.

"I love this place," Gallik says. "We recently had 15 people in the kitchen making pizzas. To see the smiles on their faces when they were finished and sat down to eat... that is what does it for me.

"For that moment, they were filled with a sense of overwhelming belonging and acceptance, and they didn't once think about their mental health," he adds. "This place is therapy for everyone, myself included. Here we're able to accept ourselves for who we are. When we are able to do that, it puts us one step closer to recovery."

Will Gallik