Bay Pines VA program gets struggling Veterans back on their feet
“I was crashing and burning—in a downward spiral—broken,” recalls Coast Guard Veteran Stewart Taylor. Then he began mental health treatment at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System.
Taylor had struggled for years with bipolar affective disorder (BAD). BAD is marked by extreme mood swings that can interfere with normal day-to-day life. He was using drugs to cope with his illness and on his way to “living alone by the railroad tracks” when he was admitted to the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) at Bay Pines.
The PRRC is an outpatient program that supports patients by helping them connect with their local communities in personally meaningful ways. As a condition of joining the program, each patient must have a specific goal to work towards. As the patient achieves their goal, their mental health symptoms can decrease significantly and in some cases go away entirely, according to PRRC psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Knisely.
“Our patients make enormous changes in their lives,” says Knisely. “We’ve helped Veterans who were so unwell they could barely leave their homes. We are approaching mental health care in innovative ways that are long overdue.”
Taylor recently graduated from the PRRC program after two years of treatment. Over that time, he became more optimistic and hopeful. Medication controlled his BAD. He discovered insights into his complicated past and started to develop higher self-esteem.
A former co-worker recently told Taylor he looks happy and is standing taller than he had been before.
Knisely says that during its eight years of operation, the PRRC has graduated many Veterans with similar success stories. The treatment team includes doctors, nurses, social workers and licensed mental health counselors. There are also Veteran peer specialists who have successfully overcome their own mental health problems.
“Each person gets to really use their strengths in their position, which leads to the best patient care,” says Chrissy Agenor, the program’s nurse manager.
As for Taylor, he plans to move forward in his life with newfound health and peace of mind.