Mental health gets a facelift


In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the mental health recovery team at PRS, Inc. in Northern Virginia is working on a promotional video in an attempt to dispel the public attitude that everyone who suffers from a mental illness is a threat to society.

PRS, which stands for Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, is a non-profit organization that specializes in mental health support services. Their headquarters is in Falls Church and have satellite offices in Mount Vernon and Reston.

Wendy Gradison, PRS president and chief executive officer, is working behind the scenes to clarify that message. There are so many stigmas about mental illness, Gradison said. We are very concerned about the medias perception of mental illness, she added.

Leading the production of this eight to ten minute video is George Mason University art student Rose Guterbock. She got the paid summer internship through an Exxon-Mobil program and gets paid through Exxon-Mobil as well. On Guterbocks first day at PRS, she visited all the centers, saw the programs and clients, and knew how to get the word out. I was very pleased there are places like PRS to help people, she said. If we know what we want to say, its just a matter of matching up the visuals, she said.

System gaps
On a nationwide scale, one in four people suffers from some kind of mental illness, Gradison said. In the aftermath of the shootings at Virginia Tech, Gradison felt the coverage of the incident pointed to the inadequate treatment at the university level. There were gaps in the system. The shootings at Virginia Tech have pointed out what we need to fix, she said. This video is part of the fixing effort.

In Virginia, very little funding is provided for mental health compared to other states, Gradison said, and there are not enough resources. The video is one way PRS is taking responsibility to whittle away at that stigma that is always there, said Karen Cox, the vice president of resource development at PRS and supervisor of Guterbock. PRS rarely gets interns through the Exxon-Mobil program, and appreciates the dedication Guterbock has shown. Shes an art major who really tackles assignments; shes taken it and made it happen, said Cox.

The video will be used to promote PRS within the mental health rehabilitation community, and in outreach programs.

Mount Vernon center
At the Mount Vernon clinic, patients are enrolled in a day program where they are taught the skills, training, support and resources needed to live and work in the community while recovering from mental illness. Bob Knox is one of the clients who lives on his own and works at the Safeway in Belle Haven. At the store, Knox bags groceries, restocks the shelves and interacts with familiar faces. He credits PRS for his independent lifestyle. I feel like I accomplished something, Knox said.

Kerri Lord oversees the operations at the Mount Vernon center. About 60 clients come in on a typical day and split into a food unit, maintenance unit, business unit and news unit. Each provides the opportunity to learn real life skills that are helpful on the job or living on their own. Thats the goal of the whole program, Lord said.

At Mount Vernon, the patients make lunch and run a snack bar, learning how to cook, handle money, and run a business. In addition, they do mailings for the non-profits, said Cox. There are employment services in the building that are part of PRS. Sixty percent of the people who go through PRS employment programs go on to get full time jobs, while the national employment rate for persons with mental illness is 10 percent.

The Mount Vernon center works with area charitable groups such as the United Christian Ministry and Rising Hope. They operate a thrift store for other members, and produce an advocacy newsletter as well. A students good work does not go unnoticed at Mount Vernon either. On the member of the month, poster on the wall and the gems poster, students are recognized for going above and beyond. Were trying to get them to work outside their comfort zone, said Lord.

Last month, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce awarded PRS the Blue Diamond Award for Excellence.