“Vulnerable in our community”: The Middlesex Mental Health Story Part 2

The rooms are large, with beautiful wooden beds, a single desk and chair, and a closet, similar to what they would have at home. Pictures and paintings hang on the walls, making the room their own. But this isn’t home. It’s the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence, (MTCR).

Middlesex was built as a temporary facility in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011, it was intended to be temporary but is still in use.

Taryn Austin is the director of MTCR. She’s originally from South Africa and has a background in social work and public relations. She is licensed in drug and alcohol and mental health. We sat at the Red Hen Bakery on a busy Tuesday afternoon while Taryn described MTCR.

The patients at Middlesex are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Austin says most of the population is paranoid schizophrenic.

“They are paranoid about what you put in their food or drink, they are paranoid the KKK or the KGB are after them, or the devil.”

“We have people who really struggle to survive out there” Austin says.  “A young woman is out there and keeps exposing herself to sexual assault because she’s so delusional she just can’t keep it together.”

“They all come from psychiatric facilities or wards,” she says, “…the only way they come to us is through a hospital.”

Treatment for residents can be medication, such as, antidepressants, medication for obsessive compulsive disorder or for sleep. Therapy can be cognitive therapy or dialectical therapy.

“It’s not one size fits all,” says Austin.

“It’s really about getting them to find their voice,” says Austin. “Middlesex is not to get them back up but to get them standing for longer periods of time.”

A day at MTCR is structured, providing consistency for the residents. Each day starts with a community meeting and breakfast. Community meeting is when the residents decide how they’re going to spend the day.

Residents are able to participate in various therapeutic groups throughout the day, learning how to cook, how to ride a bike, or navigating a bank account.

In the afternoon some residents are able to go on outings. To earn the privilege to go out into the community residents and workers must build a sense of trust. First they go for walks around the nearby police barracks and then eventually into the community.

Community outings could be going for coffee, to the library, or grocery shopping. Residents who don’t participate in afternoon outings are able to work on the computer, participate in art activities, read, or access the outside yard with its gazebo and basketball court.

Some residents are employed through the MTCR work program. They are able to earn money working up to 10 hours a week. Residents are offered jobs like mopping the floors, cleaning the door handles, cleaning the transport vans or tidying up the kitchen. Jobs at MTCR are supposed to stimulate the real world.

“A lot of them will show up in pajama bottoms and no shirt,” says Austin. “We say, ‘well if you were in the real world you wouldn’t show up that way so go back and change’”.

Residents also learn more basic household skills, like learning to budget and cooking. The residents go grocery shopping every Thursday and have cooking classes on Fridays.

“The whole goal of MTCR is to get them back out into the community,” Austin says, “to make sure they can navigate the world outside of the fence.”

This is part 2 in a 3 part series.  In the final installment, read about the issues the MTCR has raised in the Middlesex community, and the questions about its future.