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Learning from mental illness

Edd Houck grew up playing baseball and football on the lawn of Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute.

At night, he saw people peeking out from barred windows in the hospital in the town of Marion.

Treatment of mental illness has come a long way since the 1960s, the former state senator said Thursday night at an event launching a new mental health service.

Recovery In Motion hosts support groups, classes and more in a spacious office at the Rappahannock Goodwill Industries’ Community Resource Center in Spotsylvania County.

The effort grew out of a program called the Wellness Recovery Action Program. In that initiative, patients learn how to handle their mental illnesses in sessions led by people who have experienced their own emotional challenges. Program participants said it helped to learn from people who truly understand the struggles of mental illness.

A local group finished WRAP seven years ago and continued their own support group after the program ended, said Christy Escher, executive director of Recovery In Motion.

They decided to create an ongoing program that would address mental illness. Recovery In Motion offers programs for dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, substance abuse and mental illnesses.

Recovery In Motion has held activities on Tuesday and Saturday evenings, but starting this week, the agency will be open Tuesday through Saturday.

The agency will offer support groups in English and Spanish, writing workshops, dance classes, book groups, meditation and more.

Houck praised the organization and its efforts to help people struggling with mental illness. He said that programs such as Recovery In Motion prove that in many ways, treatment for mental illness improved dramatically since his childhood, when the mental hospital in his hometown offered regimens that would be considered barbaric today.

Still, Houck said, there is a long way to go.

He noted that the Virginia General Assembly has been wrestling with providing enough beds in mental health facilities. Much of the current discussion in the state legislature was spurred by the suicide of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds’ son last fall.

Austin C. “Gus” Deeds, 24, attacked his father in their Bath County home and then killed himself, just 13 hours after being released from an emergency custody order mandating mental evaluation. Gus Deeds was released after a clinician was unable to find an available psychiatric bed.

Houck noted that many people with mental illness end up in jail instead of in a treatment facility.

He spoke of going to Chicago to receive an award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness while a family member with a mental illness was in the Rappahannock Regional Jail.

“Even though we enjoy the best of times with more community-based care, with more outreach services … it’s also the worst of times because we haven’t come up with a substantive answer,” Houck said. “That’s why this organization and others like it are so important.”

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Learn more about Recovery In Motion by calling 540/645-6042, emailing or logging on to The organization is also on Twitter, @RecoveryNMotion.