Georgina Patko is the executive director at Connections Place, a clubhouse devoted to helping people living with mental illness. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Clubhouse for those with mental illnesses opens in Saanich

Connections Place encourages people to come out of isolation and find purpose in their lives

Greater Victoria’s first clubhouse devoted to those living with mental illnesses opened at the end of February, and so far dozens of members have signed up.

Connections Place Clubhouse, located at 3375 Oak St. in Saanich, is part of an international chain of over 330 clubhouses devoted to creating a comfortable space for those who may otherwise live in isolation due to their mental illness.

“The only criteria to become a member is to have a mental illness, and a doctor’s note saying you have a mental illness, and once you become a member it’s for life,” said Georgina Patko, executive director. “We engage our members in operating the building. That’s the way we start engaging people by giving them something productive and having a reason to be here so that they’ll feel important and needed.”

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Each morning a list of tasks is written on a chalk-painted wall and members sign up for duties, varying from cutting carrots to answering the reception desk. Members are not pressured to sign up or complete anything.

“We create work and each job is broken down to the smallest common denominator, because some people can’t do much while others can do quite a lot, but everybody is important because the whole thing doesn’t work otherwise,” Patko said. “There’s no limitations, no expectations… they can stay for half an hour, they can stay all day.”

Patko said the stress-free, no pressure environment helps encourage people to feel comfortable around others, and gain confidence with their own abilities.

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“People who have mental illnesses, if they were in hospital especially, they’ve had their choices taken away and they’re not sure of their own decision making skills,” Patko said. “We bring that back. We do everything by consensus and people start to realize that their voice is important, and that their opinion matters.”

Connections also works with the wider community to offer life skills and opportunities, including transitional employment for those who have had trouble finding work. Employers will give an entry level job to the Clubhouse, which then interviews and trains the members to take on the part time positions.

Despite the concerns some people might have about a congregation of people with mental illnesses, Pakot said in her more than 10 years of experience in the field that there have been very few problems.

“Everybody understands that everybody is sick and everybody needs a safe place,” Pakot said. “The incidents of people getting stressed out or anxious are much less, because it’s really only when they’re confronted with something that is too fast.”

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Pakot said the spectrum of illnesses members have is very wide, from a man suffering with such a bad case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that it took months for him to cross the threshold of the building’s entry, to a former company director who needed time to regain his confidence after several psychiatric hospitalizations. The man with OCD, she recalled, slowly became more engaged by being quietly present at meetings, while the former director eventually gained another executive role at another company.

“That’s the scope, so we don’t have huge expectations,” Pakot said. “But it’s possible that they can get their lives back.

Victoria’s Clubhouse evolved from the former Mom’s Like Us group, which advocated for adult children with mental illnesses. It could come together in large part due to a $500,000 donation from the Sisters of St. Ann’s Academy.

For more information you can visit connectionsplace.org

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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