“That’s one of things that motivates me,” … “I had big enough problems that it’s now obvious to me that if I hadn’t had all the supports and leniency granted to me at school and by my parents, there’s a very good chance I could have ended up drugged and sedated in a group home … It made a big difference to me when I got introduced to this work, to see how people who had the same kind of inner problems as me got treated really differently in the public mental health system.” – Chris

Chris Simpson is the Executive Director of Salem’s Recovery Outreach Community Center (ROCC), a place for people seeking community and support in recovery, which receives financial support from Mid-Valley Behavioral Care Network.

If you drop by ROCC on one of their 365 days a year of operation, during one of the 73 hours a week they’re open, you’ll find a place vibrant with activity, full of curious faces, and buzzing with artsy visual interest. Chris estimates the center serves in the neighborhood of a thousand people a year, the vast majority of whom make use of both ROCC’s drop-in center, with its computer lab and other resources, and its group programs, which run the gamut from yoga classes and arts and crafts workshops to support groups for people suffering from trauma or anxiety.

“We’re a consumer-run organization, which has a lot of different definitions,” Chris says. “For us, it means the majority of the board members identify as being consumers of mental health services, either now or in the past.” This includes Chris whose experience with mental health challenges, trauma, and addiction informs his work at least as much as his Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Mathematics from Stanford and his Master’s of Science in Public Health from Emory.

“That’s one of things that motivates me,” he says. “I had big enough problems that it’s now obvious to me that if I hadn’t had all the supports and leniency granted to me at school and by my parents, there’s a very good chance I could have ended up drugged and sedated in a group home. Really it’s a question of, when you start having a crisis, how much are you getting advocated for? How much has society or those around you invested in you? It made a big difference to me when I got introduced to this work, to see how people who had the same kind of inner problems as me got treated really differently in the public mental health system.”

Chris believes passionately in the power of a community of peer support: “The thing that’s most helpful to me is when you see people who remind you of yourself at different times, and you see that, hey, you’ve actually learned some stuff, and maybe you can show that to other people. And maybe people go through a time when they’re worse in some way, something falls apart in their life, but they come back, and everyone sees that even if you’re not doing well now there will be a time when you’re doing better. But that can only be seen if people know each other. That can’t be seen at the clinic, where everyone comes in single file and the patients don’t know each other. It’s a very individualistic, solitary thing to go to the doctor’s office. It’s you the individual with your health insurance making the appointment. And there’s a lot of evidence if you just get prescribed medication and you don’t have some kind of social interaction, with a therapist or a program like ours, it’s vanishingly close to a placebo effect.”

Beyond the group programs and drop-in center, ROCC has found some surprisingly practical ways to build its community, including their carpooling program, which Mid-Valley BCN supports. “Anyone who’s got a car and wants to use it to help people get to a group or come to the center for an activity, we pay reimbursements,” Chris says. “There’s more bonding that can go on if you’re going to and fro and picking each other up. It’s reinforcement for doing something together, and it helps grow the groups. It’s a small program so far, maybe seven, eight, nine drivers, but it’s like a glue that makes things keep working.”

You can visit ROCC in person at 2555 Silverton Road NE, Suite C, or learn much more about what they have to offer at roccsalem.org.