Thursdays first began in March, 1998 as a response to an unmet need expressed by families with adult children suffering with mental illness. As is the case with many adults diagnosed with major mental illness, studies continue to validate that many of these individuals still live at home with their families. Now adults in their twenties, thirties, and forties, many of their childhood friends have long gone on, finished school, gotten married, began careers and started families of their own. This has left many of these adults isolated without an adequate support system and heavily dependent upon their families for socialization and recreational activities.
After repeatedly hearing concerns from these families that there was no place for their adult child or relative to socialize, the MHAEC responded. MHAEC opened its doors on the only night that its building was unoccupied. Hence, the program was born, as was its name Thursdays.
For many families, Thursdays has been a mini-respite. Families report that they feel relieved at times to be able to drop off their loved one at Thursdays. They appreciate that this is an opportunity for their relative to get out of the house and socialize with others, even for a short time.
Many mental health consumers have the need to socialize with others in a stigma free, non treatment-based, and safe program setting. Many of these individuals are employed part time or are enrolled in coursework and understand that returning home to social isolation or depending on their families to meet all of their social needs is not productive. All recognize the necessity of having a solid social support network and utilize Thursdays to meet this need. The primary purpose of Thursdays is to provide specialized respite to families with a loved one struggling with mental illness.
About the Program
Thursdays is intended for adults, ranging in age from 18 and older that have significant mental illness and need to improve their social support network. Thursdays operates out of the MHAEC building in Montclair, utilizing the unoccupied space of the MHAEC boardroom on Thursday evenings. With no specific catchment area and with its open door policy, Thursdays welcomes all mental health consumers from the local and surrounding communities.
Many current Thursdays participants report that they look forward to coming to the drop in center as their only social connection during their busy week of attending to their treatment program, and therapy. These same individuals report that they really enjoy socializing, going out to eat, or to special shows, concerts, with others as it is a very normalizing experience. Others report that having phone numbers of their fellow Thursday participants to call, gives them a heightened sense of security.
The families of these consumers also benefit from Thursdays. They report a decrease in their own level of burden and anxiety when they are provided with a brief respite for several hours on Thursday evenings. They report feeling comforted in knowing that their relative is not isolating themselves and is being exposed to a social environment which will promote the development of social skills. Many of these families understand how important social skills will be for their loved one especially when they are no longer around to care for them.
In planning the strategies to be employed by Thursdays, it was strongly felt that Thursdays should create an atmosphere free of the societal stigma of mental illness. Thursdays should also be a respite for all mental health consumers, where the concepts of tolerance, respect and dignity are reinforced. It is the members of "Thursdays" that have input into the planning, and design of all program activities.
At Thursdays, the MHAEC professional staff work as role models alongside family members, community volunteers and graduate student interns to create a positive, welcoming and warm milieu. At Thursdays there are no sign ups, eligibility requirements or membership fees.
Thursdays provides light and healthy refreshments such as vegetables and dip, decaffeinated soda and coffee, to foster a positive atmosphere and give the crowd something to munch on while breaking the ice to socialize with each other.
Thursdays offers no formal therapy but often MHAEC clinicians are utilized to informally counsel, advice and support consumers on issues they present for discussion.
An overall objective of Thursdays is to help reintegrate consumers into the community by teaching and reinforcing positive social skills. Thursdays provides a safe haven where consumers can try out their social skills. For the family member of Thursdays consumers, it is a brief respite from the demand of having to be their sole social network.
Thursdays is open every Thursday from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Thursdays is staffed by MHAEC clinicians, along with graduate students and community volunteers. These graduate student interns along with community volunteers have helped to keep the social milieu energized. Thursdays is an ongoing program, and is open all year round except on Thanksgiving and when holidays such as Christmas and New Years Day fall on Thursday.