Rain Garden: 29-Unit Housing Complex Offers Mentally Ill Independent Living

From its inception, Wilsonville complex for people with mental illness unlike any other in country

by Dana Tims
The Oregonian

Gwen Watson

Rain Garden offers mentally ill adults independent living

WILSONVILLE — Gwen Watson picked up her acoustic guitar, gently placed her fingers along the frets and softly launched into John Denver’s “My Sweet Lady.”

Her silky soprano soared effortlessly into the song’s upper register as she plucked the steel strings in mistake-free accompaniment.

For all her musical virtuosity, 51-year-old Watson is the first to say her life hasn’t always been this in tune.

“Starting at age 17 and lasting for the next 21 years, I was so medicated that I was living in unreality,” she said. “The drugs they gave me were the drugs they give murderers.”

After decades of living in adult group homes and struggling with mental illness, Watson finally has a place of her own at Rain Garden Apartments, a 29-unit housing complex for adults with mental illness that officially opens Friday.

It’s a place unlike any other in the country.

Rain Garden, along with two group homes and two apartment complexes for adults with mental illness, is situated squarely among the 700 upscale houses and condos at Wilsonville’s Villebois “urban village.” Developers, along with state and county mental health experts, say this is the first place in the United States where mental-health housing was part of a larger master-planned community from its inception.

“We had to go back to Washington, D.C., to ask for federal guidance on how we do this,” said Ruby Kadlub, founder of Costa Pacific, which developed Villebois. “They said they couldn’t tell me, because it hadn’t ever been done before.”

The land’s history has everything to do with why new residents such as Watson finally have a place to call home.

From 1961 until 1995, Dammasch State Hospital was located here. Hailed at its opening as a national model for progressive treatment regimens, the hospital eventually succumbed to the move to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill.

Legislators, recognizing that Dammasch had been dedicated to mental-health uses, passed a bill stipulating that money from its sale to private developers be set aside for grants to groups wanting to build housing there for people with mental illness.

As a result, Villebois’ rows of townhouses, condos and detached single-family houses include 10 acres that will eventually be filled with projects such as Rain Garden.

With the exception of one Villebois resident who complained about the inclusion early on, the ability to blend adults with mental illness into the larger population has been seamless.

“We’ve spent a lot of time out there dispelling myths about mental illness,” said Cindy Becker, director of Clackamas County’s Department of Human Services. “The goal is to have people integrated, so no one even knows they live in a mental-health facility.”

Rain Garden’s tenants range in age from 18 to mid-60s, said Royce Bowlin, senior director of residential treatment services for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, which provides round-the-clock on-site services for residents.

Residents come from a variety of places, including group homes, family situations or the state hospital. All are screened to ensure they are capable of living on their own, he said.

“With proper medication management and regimen of counseling, these folks are able to function at a remarkably high level,” said Dennis Keenan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon, Rain Garden’s owner and developer. “These folks are fitting right in there.”

Watson quickly agreed.

“I love it here,” she said. “I just love it. It’s first-class all the way.”

In the three weeks since moving from a group home in Tigard, she has taken her first guitar lesson, decorated her studio apartment with heart-felt items such as a rug her mother wove for her and started venturing regularly to Villebois’ Sunday farmers’ market.

“I understand what it’s like to hit rock bottom and be all alone,” she said. “I’m finally in a place where I don’t think that will ever happen again. Believe me, I couldn’t be happier.”

— Dana Tims; danatims@news.oregonian.com


Reading Your Way To Mental Health

The Wall Street Journal

A growing number of therapists are recommending something surprising for depressed and anxious patients: Read a book.

The treatment is called bibliotherapy, and it is gaining force from a spate of research showing that some self-help books can measurably improve mental health. In May alone, the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy published two studies demonstrating the effectiveness of bibliotherapy in patients with depression or other mood disorders. The national health system in Britain this year is prescribing self-help books for tens of thousands of people seeking medical attention for mood disorders.

Decades after the emergence of the self-help book, it remains one of publishing’s hottest categories. This year, U.S. revenue for the category will exceed $600 million, a single-digit jump from 2006, says Simba Information, a market research firm in Stamford, Conn.

Yet this category is reminiscent of the market for elixirs, oils and pills before the advent of federal regulation. Despite the growth in research, fewer than 5% of the tens of thousands of self-help books on the market have been subjected to randomized clinical trials. And authors with no scientific credentials are just as likely to hit the jackpot as are renowned physicians. “When the book cover announces that it’s a bestseller, that means nothing,” says John Norcross, a University of Scranton professor of psychology and researcher on the effectiveness of self-help books.

Now, mental-health professionals in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere are determined to distinguish the most proven offerings. The aim is to recommend books that have been shown to be successful in published trials conducted by reputable, independent researchers. Trials are conducted much the way drug research is done, comparing patients’ depressive symptoms before and after treatment, compared with patients who didn’t undergo the treatment. For instance numerous clinical trials have shown that “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” a 1980 tome by Stanford University psychiatrist David Burns, reduces depressive symptoms in large numbers of readers.

In the U.K., where the wait for professional treatment can stretch six months, the national health system has embraced bibliotherapy as the first line of treatment for non-emergency cases. The program varies but in most parts of the country, health officials have approved a list of about 35 books that have been stocked at local libraries. Seekers of non-emergency mental-health services receive a prescription enabling them to check out a book without a library card and for 12 weeks, four times longer than other books.

In a small but significant percentage of cases, bibliotherapy reduces symptoms sufficiently that the sufferers no longer seek additional treatment, says Neil Frude, a Cardiff University psychology professor who helped develop the U.K. program.

In the U.S., no official list of bibliotherapy treatments exists. But thousands of mental-health professionals have contributed to a self-help manual that Dr. Norcross — co-author himself of a self-help book, “Changing For Good” — has been updating since 2000. “The Authoritative Guide To Self-Help Resources in Mental Health,” available from many commercial booksellers, ranks more than 1,000 self-help books according to their effectiveness, based on clinical trials and on the clinical experience of professionals.

Bibliotherapy works best on mild to moderate symptoms, and isn’t regarded as a replacement for conventional treatments. A 2003 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reviewed the published research on bibliotherapy and concluded that it could successfully treat depression, mild alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders, but was less effective with smoking addiction and severe alcohol abuse.

Most research suggests that bibliotherapy is most effective when used in conjunction with conventional therapy or while waiting for conventional therapy to begin.