By Melody Worsham
South Mississippi has had its share of disasters in the past years. Hurricanes and the BP oil drilling explosion are at the top of the list. Coastians are strong, but stress has become part of our lives, even as we move forward to restore and repair the damage to our homes, our livelihood and our mental health. It is the latter stressor that many people tend to ignore, but not dealing with how stress affects us can make other repairs very difficult. The Mental Health Association of Mississippi (MHA), a local private charity that provides support services for people with mental illness, now has a plan to help Gulf Coast residents gain more peace of mind as they make progress in reconstructing their way of life.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan, called WRAP for short, is a free wellness workshop offered through MHA for Gulf Coast residents who were affected in any way by the BP oil disaster. The program is funded by a grant from BP through the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. The 2 or 3 day program helps participants learn about how they currently cope with stress, and lead them to discover new ways to reduce or prevent the impact of stress on their lives. The sessions are casual and upbeat. It is not group therapy. Participants learn how to make a plan to control “triggers”, which are external things that make you feel angry or sad, and to recognize their own “warning signs”, which are internal cues that you are not feeling well, like anxiety or the blues. Once identified, WRAP guides participants to create a practical plan of action to cope with their triggers and turn negative thought patterns into positive ones.
“WRAP is a tool they can use as they participate and use whenever and for however long they need to… to get through all kinds of situations,” said Jo Halligan, an advanced level WRAP facilitator and trainer with the Copeland Center, the creators of WRAP. She said hurricanes, the oil spill, and now tornadoes and river floods are a lot for people to deal with in a short period of time. “But I see the resiliency in the Gulf Coast Community, and statewide and individually,” Jo said. “People coming together and supporting each other’s efforts.” Jo has been with the Copeland Center for eleven years and she has been busy lately visiting other states that have faced serious catastrophes in the past few years. She helped set up WRAP programs for people facing serious unemployment in North Carolina following last year’s storms and flooding disasters. She also helped the state of West Virginia set up WRAP programs to help families impacted by the coal mine collapse in April of 2010. She has also help our neighboring state of Louisiana in recent times. When a WRAP 2 or 3 day session is over, “almost every single time, [the participants] say ‘I wished I’d known about this earlier,’” Jo said.
Shortly after the BP oil disaster, executive director of MHA, Kay Deneault, saw that this event could be the tipping point for many Coast residents who have already endured so much over the past several years. Kay’s organization operates a day center for people who live with mental illness, and she is keen to recognize sign that her community members would benefit from having extra tools to help them recover from so much. Kay emphasized that you don’t have to have a mental illness to benefit from WRAP. “WRAP is for everyone,” she said. Kay said now that she has gone through the program herself, she uses WRAP to help her stay well and cope with life’s every day stressors. The program is a self-discovery process. Once you can identify the signs of stress, you can pull things out of your “wellness toolbox” to reduce or eliminate sad or angry feelings. Wellness Tools are those thing that are simple, safe and don’t cost you anything that you can do improve your feelings or mood. Oftentimes we are unaware of those things that are causing stress, and that could prevent you from taking care of yourself until you feel like you are breaking down or in a crisis. Because of WRAP, Jo said she is a “more rounded person.”
WRAP is not a substitute for therapy. If you are currently seeing a professional for your stress or depression, WRAP is the perfect supplement to increase the effectiveness of counseling or therapy. WRAP is based on five key concepts of recovery and wellness: hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy, and support. The program involves implementing strategies in these key areas to help you better cope with all of life’s stressors. Planning ahead for stress can prevent you from getting blind-sided by your own emotions surrounding your circumstances.
The Wellness Recovery Action Plan is being offered all around the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is free to attend. Jo trained several locals on how to facilitate WRAP workshops, and they are available to set up at your place of business, civic group or community-based organization. To know more about how to participate, or to get a WRAP workshop for your own group, call Kay Deneault at 228-864-6274 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stress is unavoidable. Controlling the effects of stress is key to long-term wellness and recovery.