ON THE GROUND: Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association

Scheme - The creation of a Centre for Better Health in Hackney

Funding - Year one costs are £222,000, which the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (PRA) is helping to fund courtesy of an anonymous £500,000 donation

Objectives - To enable the PRA to reach people who, because of the stigma attached to mental health, are reluctant to attend a centre explicitly for this purpose

The PRA was founded in 1959 and now employs 62 staff, helping 2,000 people with mental health problems at its four centres in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Islington. It operates on a referral basis, offering a combination of day and residential care.

But director John Wilder feels there remains within the locality an untapped need for a facility for people who have slipped through the net because they aren't comfortable with being labelled as having mental health problems. By creating such a facility and avoiding any explicit mention of psychiatry or mental health in its name, he feels it will make it easier for people to seek help without having to accept they are mentally ill.

Wilder says: "The secret will be marketing it in a way that is acceptable to people.

The emphasis, he says, will be on providing "discreet psychiatric services

such as stress management, yoga, massage, advocacy, benefit advice, counselling and art therapy. Interpreters will also be on hand so that people for whom English is not their native language can also be accommodated.

The PRA has divided its head office in Hackney into two to provide for the facility, which is run on a drop-in basis for people with problems such as schizophrenia, depression and neurosis. So far it is operating a limited service of counselling and distance learning in English literature but the plan is to add on services throughout the year.

In addition to the core activities listed above, the centre will also have an internet cafe and operate holiday schemes for people desperate to get away for a break. Access to the centre is free to people on benefits but the employed have to pay a small charge.

"This work recognises that many in society feel isolated in their particular setting where personal stress wears away an individual's self-confidence and self-esteem,

says Wilder.

"East and north London includes extremely high numbers of mentally ill, including suicides, drug addiction, murder, rape and other major crimes, heart disease, cancer, HIV, unemployment and poverty. For many adults and children, English is a second language.

"Little wonder that a chain reaction of stress is leading to considerable distress and serious social consequences.

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