The Living Room Addresses Mental Health in a Safe Space
Advocacy and Recovery Support for People With Mental Health or Substance Use Crisis
Updated August 2023
A living room serves an important purpose in your home: It’s a pleasant and comfortable place where you can relax and decompress with friends and family.
So The Living Room in the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center in DeKalb, Illinois, is aptly named. It offers a safe, comfortable and nonclinical space for DeKalb County residents 18 years and older who need help coping with mental health and/or substance use crisis situations. It serves as an alternative to an emergency department or psychiatric hospitalization. The Living Room’s services are available at no cost to those who visit.
“The Living Room is a safe space for individuals who are struggling with everyday stressors with their mental health. It’s a place where they can come and connect with trained recovery specialists on a different level than they would with a clinician,” says Sabrina Nicholson, MSW, LCSW, Behavioral Health Services manager of Operations. “The wonderful thing about the staff in the Living Room is that they are so passionate about helping others. They’re able to connect their own experiences in a way that other staff aren’t able to.”
Someone Who Understands
Every guest of The Living Room meets with a recovery support specialist, who is a trained crisis counselor with firsthand personal experience with mental health issues or substance misuse.
“I’ve been in recovery for 15 years. I started work as a recovery support specialist in the aftermath of my own diagnosis, and I built a career out of it,” says Cheryl R. Hahn, CRSS, lead recovery support specialist. “Each of our guests will get a different resource as they head out the door and back into the community. We can connect them with therapists, with psychiatrists, with primary care — all depending on their needs.”
The recovery support specialists provide peer-to-peer crisis intervention and stabilization services, connect guests to community resources and make appropriate referrals to other care professionals as needed.
“When I first came here, meeting the staff was pleasant. They always have a smile on their face, they are nice to you. They give you the information you need,” says Colleen, a guest of the Living Room. “It’s very helpful when you’re in a group to be able to hear other people talk. Sometimes they have a story to tell that helps you with something you’re going through.”
“We’ve seen a lot of times where individuals who may be more isolated start connecting with other guests in the room,” says Nicholson. “And that’s really magical to see that social connection, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and how much of that connection has been missing, and the impact that it has on their mood.”
Every guest’s experience at the Living Room will be different based on the support they need. For some, the experience may look like just sitting with a recovery support specialist. For others it might be talking through what is going on, or even doing an activity together.
“After guests leave, we do an exit survey and we ask them ‘Did this visit deter you from going to the emergency room?’ And the majority of guests that come in here say ‘Yes,’ which is really incredible,” Nicholson says. “That means they have gone with a less intense intervention and received the help that they needed at the time.”
Colleen says she is grateful for the Living Room and the people she’s met there.
“I always try to be a positive person, but sometimes if we don’t share our feelings, we’re sitting there in our own head and thinking a lot of things that aren’t true,” Colleen says. “If you talk them out, it helps you. Coming to the Living Room gave me a voice to know that I can speak up.”
The Living Room is located inside the Ben Gordon Center at 12 Health Services Drive in DeKalb. It is open to residents of DeKalb County. Walk-in guests are welcome: No appointment is required. For more information and current hours of operation, please visit nm.org/dekalblivingroomor call 815.756.4875.
The Ben Gordon Center Crisis Response Line is also available 24/7. The 24-hour hotline is 866.242.0111.
Funding for The Living Room is provided in whole or in part by the Illinois Department of Human Services.