A drop-in center is a safe haven for adults, an accepting place for anyone in need of support, advocacy and self-empowerment on their recovery journey.

In Pennsylvania and elsewhere drop-ins are primarily run solely by individuals with lived mental health experience or in partnership with an auspice agency. A drop-in center, also sometimes called a peer resource center or self -help center is a place of choice and is non-clinical. The people who use the drop-in center develop socialization programs and whatever other programs they choose.

At a drop-in center, there are people, not patients. The same people who come in search of support also support others and help run the center. Because the individuals who use drop-in centers determine the programs that are available, each drop-in center fills a unique role in people’s lives and in the community. However, all drop-in centers share some common features, such as supportive environments, sources of information and social activities. As drop-in centers have developed across the country, they have provided a place where people with psychiatric labels who may not have been welcomed elsewhere can get away to a warm, friendly, family atmosphere. Centers often provide basic needs such as food and clothing and link consumers with social support services.

However, as the recovery movement becomes more sophisticated, the concept of a drop-in center’s role has changed for many within the movement. Whereas the drop-in center previously was viewed as a place to provide basic supports, now many drop-in centers see themselves as a means of empowering people to take control of their own recovery and wellness. Drop-in centers promote empowerment by allowing participants to plan the activities that they themselves see as useful. This model is much different from that of traditional mental health services. At drop-in centers, people create responsibilities for themselves. Individuals who use the center establish rules of behavior, work commitments, and event schedules. It is a place where people can see others who have suffered the same stigma and discrimination but are able to move forward with their lives.

Empowerment is central to drop-in centers. Participants plan their own recovery. Drop-in centers have been far ahead of traditional mental health services in embracing the concept of recovery: the belief that people can focus on building better lives rather than simply treating symptoms. By becoming involved with drop-in centers, people can begin to shed the labels and limits that they have experienced and see opportunities.

The Role and Function of Drop-In Centers in the Mental Health System

Drop-in centers play important and effective roles in the lives of many people, but what roles do the centers play in the mental health system? For many people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, drop-in centers have been an essential way of improving their quality of life. In addition to (or rather than) seeking treatment from clinical programs, individuals can visit drop-in centers to seek support from their peers, participate in social activities, seek help in obtaining services and benefits or simply relax and have fun. Although many drop-in centers do not consider themselves a part of the mental health system, it is impossible to deny that the existence of successful drop-in centers have a major impact on the mental health system. Interacting with and as an enhancement to the mental health system, drop-in centers fill a unique and important role in (or around) the mental health system and the community.

For a fraction of the cost of clinical mental health services, a drop-in center can provide a supportive environment for individuals who might otherwise resort to hospitalization, crisis services or other costly services. As a result of their struggles they may have gotten involved in the criminal justice system, become homeless or succumbed to isolation that leads to deterioration of their lives and health, all of which can be ameliorated by supportive peers at a drop-in center.

Many drop-in centers offer services on evenings, weekends and holidays, when clinical mental health services might be unavailable and times that many people find particularly difficult. Drop-in centers have extensive histories as a vital part of a community. They provide a doorway for an individual’s recovery journey. Participants develop a sense of responsibility, self-worth and belonging that may be absent in traditional settings.