November 06, 2014

Asten Jones, peer support specialist at The Center for Health Care  Services in San Antonio Texas.Ask anyone who has struggled with mental illness or addiction what the most important part of their recovery was and many times they will tell you it was finding a treatment plan that worked with them as an individual and not just as a part of the system.

Person-first, or person-centered, treatment programs allow for people to work toward recovery at their own pace and utilize the resources that will best help them get better. Asten Jones who currently works in San Antonio, Texas knows from personal experience the importance of treating the whole person.

Asten now works as a peer support specialist at The Center for Health Care Services (CHCS), a position she said she was shocked to have been awarded after using services at CHCS herself.

CHCS is one of four exemplary programs being recognized by Connect4MentalHealth, a partnership between numerous mental health organizations that promotes innovation in our communities to help those living with mental illness or substance abuse challenges. CHCS has pioneered the use of integrated services intended to holistically improve the lives of those with serious mental illness that were previously facing negative outcomes. CHCS has assisted more than 21,000 individuals through its numerous services and programs.

Asten lives with bipolar disorder and struggled with heroin addiction on and off in different periods of her life. She was first brought in to the detox center at CHCS after her and her mother were caught doing heroin in the home of a woman her mother was providing hospice care for as a registered nurse.

After completing detox, Asten was assigned a case worker from CHCS named Blanca Rosa who she explains completely changed her life.

“I told Blanca was still doing heroin and still not taking my medication and she never threw me out,” said Asten. “She told me I had the capability to do great things, but I never believed her.”

After Asten’s suicide attempt in 2012, she called Blanca who got her back in to a rehab program and stayed by her side for the entire journey. “She picked me up from homeless shelter and took me to rehab and stayed with me throughout the whole intake process so I wouldn't run,” Asten explained. “I stayed for 90 days and then called her again. I realize how rare it is for a caseworker to stay with you and she was really astounding.”

During her recovery, Asten used five different services offered by CHCS including the wellness clinic, restoration center, in-house recovery program, case management and job readiness training.

CHCS is having huge amounts of success with the community in San Antonio by offering these supports and more:

  • A jail diversion program. The Bexar County Jail (in Texas) was once immensely overcrowded but now has a continuous surplus of roughly 1,000 empty beds.
  • A $50 million reduction in jail and inappropriate emergency room costs since 2008.
  • Training of more than 2,500 law enforcement officers to work successfully with people living with serious mental illness.
  • A safe sleeping area for more than 700 individuals in its Prospects Courtyard, a safe place for homeless individuals to seek medical and psychiatric treatment as well as fulfill their basic living needs.

In her role as a peer support specialist, Asten uses her personal experience to advocate for those who need help. “I like just being able to help them,” she said. “It’s a cross between being a friend and being an advocate. I am their friend but I am speaking out the loudest for them because I know what it’s like. I know what it’s like to be homeless and not have shoes and not have clean socks.”

Asten said the integrated variety of services offered at CHCS is what truly makes it successful. “There is no timeline, they can go through any [program] as many times as they need and no one is going to judge them for that. I am going to have a mental illness for the rest of my life. Many people are dually diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse and the center is willing to help them too, thank God.”

“It’s really all about what the person wants. When you’re working with hundreds or thousands of people you need to be flexible and [CHCS] is,” said Asten.

The one piece of advice that Asten would give to someone hoping to reach recovery: “Anyone can do it.”

Together with the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council) and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck, NAMI affirms the need for localized, innovative, effective and sustainable approaches to address serious mental illness. Through Connect 4 Mental Health (C4MH),a nationwide initiative, we have joined together to call for communities to prioritize serious mental illness and encourage promising practices that help people, like Asten, live healthier, fuller lives.

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