My name is Emily Pittman, and I am currently a junior at UNC Chapel Hill with a major in Psychology and minors in Business Administration and Studio Art. Through the Gil Program, I am interning at Threshold Clubhouse in Durham. Threshold is a day center for adults who have been diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, and it serves as a place for building community while also fostering autonomy within each individual. Threshold follows the Clubhouse Model of psychosocial rehabilitation, which means that participating individuals are known as members rather than patients, and that these members work alongside staff in several different units at Threshold during the work-ordered day to make the facility run. By ensuring that members are a fundamental part of the operations at Threshold, members are able to feel a sense of ownership in the work they do and in the program as a whole.
This semester I am working with staff and members in the Career Services unit, which helps members to attain temporary and supported employment positions at local businesses, and to plan any future employment goals they may have. While working in this unit, I am also developing a research project to understand how Threshold can increase the young adult segment of its population, as most of its members are currently over the age of 40.
My time at Threshold so far has been incredibly educational and fulfilling, in that I am able to learn so much about mental illness and this community as a whole by interacting and working with individual people. I did not have very much experience with severe mental illnesses before this internship, and by having conversations and simply getting to know the members here, I am learning that none of these people are defined by their mental illness. Everyone has a different story, different talents, and a different personality. That being said, I am also learning a great deal about how mental illnesses impact the lives of these individuals, and about the struggles that this population tends to face. For example, most members take intense medications, which can often cause them to develop severe side effects like diabetes. In addition, several members have spent a significant portion of their lives in mental health hospitals and group homes, both of which have the potential to be very beneficial and very problematic for the individuals they serve. There are so many psychological and situational battles that these individuals face every day, and it is empowering to see their incredible strength and resilience. As someone who hopes to work in the non-profit sector after college, this has been a very enlightening and helpful experience. I hope to continue to learn about the daily lives and challenges faced by this community, and to use this knowledge in my work in the future.