Carter House: 'It helps me cope'

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Kenneth Smith has had to deal with some pretty scary things in his life.
While many of us are frightened by things and circumstances around us, Smith must confront frightening things in his own head.
“When I’m at home, I tend to hear voices,” he says.
That began when he was in his 20s, he recalls.
The voices were threatening and destructive. “They would tell me to kill my family and stuff,” he says.
Smith’s life was altered so profoundly that he couldn’t make it to work many days and lost his job at Food Lion. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
Before coming to Carter House in Salisbury, he’d been in and out of the hospital, he says.
Now, he’s managing his mental illness, living by himself and receiving plenty of support from Carter House, which helps teach him life skills.
Being around people is good for him, he says.
Now that he’s part of a community and receiving effective medication, he’s keeping the voices at bay.
“I don’t hear them as much when I’m here — it’s when I’m alone,” he says.
“It’s like a battle going on inside my head,” he says. Although he knows that it’s caused by a chemical imbalance, it feels like “good against evil,” he says.
“Now I just open up my Bible and start reading.”
Carter House — often referred to simply as The Clubhouse — is a haven for him.
“Without this place, I wouldn’t have nowhere to go,” he says. “When my mom died, my friend J.C. was right here for me.
“It’s real good to have friends. All the friends I have here are like family to me.”
Kathy Torrence has also found a lot of friends at the Carter House.
She likes to work in the snack bar there, where you can buy a can of potted meat for 35 cents.
Kathy’s been coming for a while, and it’s a blessing, she says. She’s made a lot of friends and she reaches out through an inspiration group she leads on Wednesdays.
“That’s what I need: friends. They’re not judging. They accept you as you are, where you are.”
When she’s alone, she gets depressed and scared, she says.
“I need to be around people,” she says. “The Clubhouse offers that, the privilege to be around people.”
Carter House, which is part of RHA Behavioral Health Services, serves adults like Smith and Torrence who are struggling with severe and profound mental illness, including schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and depression. Carter House offers psychosocial rehabilitation (PSR). With its emphasis on peer support and social interaction, the PSR model is designed to help minimize the need for ongoing professional intervention.
The program began as a partial hospitalization program in the basement of the old Tri-County Mental Health location, which became one of the Department of Social Services sites on Mahaley Ave. Several of the psychiatrists there felt that more support could be provided to those diagnosed with a mental illness.
They had heard of the clubhouse model being used in a New York facility called The Fountain House. After visiting Fountain House, they decided to begin a program locally, which was called Victory House.
Sam and Mary Oma Carter were strong mental health advocates in the community and the state, having two sons of their own diagnosed with mental illness. They provided support for the program and helped the clubhouse move to North Main Street, where the name was changed to the Carter House in honor of their dedication to the program. The Carter house is now located at 600 West Innes St.
Karenda Harris is a team leader at Carter House and explains that clients get coping skills and strategies from their peers and also from life class groups.
They learn practical things, such as budgeting skills, how to comparison shop, pay bills, learn computer skills and cook, she added.
Rick Costello has been coming to Carter House for four days a week for 10 years now, since he moved here with his mother, Carol Hylton, from Maryland.
“I found out I have depression,” he says.
The support he finds at the Carter House is important to him.
“We can all talk about our illnesses and learn about each other’s,” he says. “It helps me cope with it.”
David Dickerson, 54, moved here from Houston a few years ago. He’s dealing with schizophrenia and manic depression and says his issues are “kind of serious,” including hallucinations — “real scary things” like snakes or Bigfoot, he says.
He remembers when he began hearing voices.
“They were loud, real loud.”
“I’d say, ‘Shut up, leave me alone.’ It was insane stuff. It was really negative talk, like devilish. I felt like the devil was taking over. I didn’t know what to do.”
It was three or four months before his parents found out. By that time, he’d lost his job at a hardware store. He ended up in a psychiatric hospital.
Right now he’s hopeful because he’s on a new monthly injectable medication that he believes is helping control his hallucinations and helping him not to feel paranoid, as though people are talking behind his back.
The Carter House is also helping him, he says.
“I can’t sit around and do nothing.”
If he does start to hear voices, he says he gets on the phone with his doctor right away. He feels safe these days, he says.
The Carter house has meant a lot to her, says client Barbara Valentine, who says her recovery has been helped along by the Carter House.
“I was really messed up,” she says. “The Carter House helped me to socialize, be independent.
“It’s meant to much to me,” she says. “We have a lot of love here, and support. It’s been a wonderful place for me to come.”
It’s also helped her understand her diagnosis, she says.
“It’s like a family here. It’s a place to come, chill out, relax.
“I don’t know what I’d do without it. I love it here.”
Carter House services are paid for by Medicaid, which also helps provide transportation for clients.
To learn more about the Carter House, call Karenda Harris, team leader, at 704-633-1835.