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Living room dark grey wall with turquoise velvet sofa, with free space to the right
Living room dark grey wall with turquoise velvet sofa, with free space to the right
Patient Stories

The Living Room Addresses Mental Illness in a Safe Space

Addressing Mental Illness in a Safe Space

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, located within the Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center in DeKalb, is aptly named, as it offers a safe, comfortable and nonclinical space for adults 18 years and older who need help resolving nonemergency mental health situations without intensive intervention. Services are available at no cost to those that visit.

“The Living Room can provide hope for those feeling hopeless, and support and assistance for those feeling overwhelmed, whether it is due to symptoms of depression or anxiety, job loss, family issues or other types of crises,” says Katherine Lueken, MSW, LCSW, manager of The Living Room. “Our recovery support specialists provide a nonjudgmental, supportive atmosphere of compassion and understanding.”

Be Our “Guest”

Every visitor — or “guest” — to The Living Room meets with a recovery support specialist, who is a trained crisis counselor with first-hand personal experience with mental illness or substance abuse.

“When you’re having a psychotic episode or if you’re suicidal, going to the emergency room can feel overwhelming,” explains Barb P., a recovery support specialist at The Living Room. “It can feel very loud and busy, and it can be terrifying. The Living Room is calm and comfortable, and if we can’t address the crisis, we find the resources and people who can.”

Three years ago, after completing her own therapy, Barb P. decided to become a recovery support specialist as a way to give back to the organization that helped her through some very tough personal times. She describes her meetings with guests as “conversations over a cup of coffee: casual, free-flowing talks that are free from judgment and stigma.”

Peer-to-peer, the recovery support specialist uses crisis intervention and stabilization services, provides linkage to community resources and makes appropriate referrals to other care professionals as needed.

“The Living Room is a safe place to go where kind, loving people help me,” says Annette, who has been coming to The Living Room for several years. “I don’t feel judged by anyone at The Living Room. They understand me because they’ve been through this, too.”

I don’t feel judged by anyone at The Living Room.
— Annette, a guest of The Living Room

Someone Who Knows

Annette is in her 50s and has battled years of depression and suicidal thoughts stemming from abusive relationships. Through her meetings at The Living Room, Annette has learned coping skills, breathing exercises and visualization techniques.

“When I try to explain my depression and suicidal thoughts to my family and friends, they tell me to knock it off and get over it. They don’t think mental health is real,” explains Annette.

“The Living Room is unique because guests meet with people who are in recovery and who have lived through similar experiences. There’s still a lot of stigma with mental health, but I’m able to relate to Annette’s feelings because I know the pain she is experiencing and I understand her fear. I’ve been there,” says Barb.

Annette says this nonjudgmental approach has been very helpful.

“I feel better knowing I have secure help. Talking with Barb helps me to calm down, and I get answers about my feelings,” says Annette.

The Living Room also offers a 24/7 hotline, so guests can always talk to someone on the phone.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, additional safety measures, such as mask wearing and physical distancing are being followed to help reduce the spread of infection.

*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. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. For more information, call 815.756.4875. The 24-hour hotline is 866.242.0111.