A new community resource in Rochester aims to help individuals navigate the troubled waters often associated with mental illness.

Fittingly, it's been dubbed The Lighthouse.

James Rabe, the popular Y105 radio host who has battled depression since 1995, is a frequent visitor and volunteer at free drop-in center created by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. He views the new space as the ideal spot to avoid isolation while relaxing with peers who are facing similar challenges.

It's also a long-overdue option for those struggling with mental health issues, Rabe says.

"I deal with mental health issues — and so many other people do to — that I want to help normalize it," said Rabe, who is a NAMI board member and frequent volunteer around the Rochester community. "It's not a joke. We need a place we can go and just let it all go. At The Lighthouse, you are with people who understand mental health issues.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Some people build safe spaces in their head where they can go, but some people need more than that."

Mayo support

The project was made possible thanks largely to a $25,000 matching donation from Mayo Clinic, which covered about a third of The Lighthouse's total cost. It's located at NAMI's office at 1700 Broadway N, Suite 104, in Rochester.

Martha Cashman, of Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, hopes that Mayo's financial support paves the way for improved local support for mental health issues, which impact about 20 percent of Americans, according to NAMI executive director Courtney Lawson.

"We know access to mental health resources is a high priority for our community, from the 2016 Olmsted County Community Health Needs Assessment," Cashman said. "We are encouraged by all who donated to help make the new drop-in Lighthouse Center and the non-crisis telephone support line possible."

While Rabe routinely volunteers at The Lighthouse as a peer support specialist, he laments the fact that it isn't being utilized more. Lawson acknowledges that growth has been slow, but she's hoping it will become more popular as more people become aware of it.

Free programs

While individuals are welcome to stop by to relax or socialize, there are also free programs that NAMI offers at The Lighthouse. Three of the most popular are Illness Management & Recovery (IMR), Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training (DBT).

IMR is a recovery program aimed at helping people set goals, make informed decisions about treatment, and learn new information and skills to address symptoms. It's offered for groups or individuals.

WRAP is a personalized wellness and recovery guide that can be explored in a group or private setting with a peer support specialist. Its foundation is built upon five key recovery concepts: hope, personal responsibility, education, self-advocacy and support.

DBT is a course designed to help those in recovery manage their daily life. It focuses on four major areas: mindfulness skills, distress tolerance skills, interpersonal effectiveness skills and emotion regulation skills.

Specific hours at The Lighthouse have been rotating since a soft opening last fall as Lawson experiments to meet demand. However, other activities — such as Game Day, Chocolate Thursday and Movie Tuesday — are routinely offered in the afternoon to create social opportunities.

Despite the slow start, Rabe remains optimistic that the space will catch on with the public. Lawson says it's already assisted a few people who have sought help while "almost in crisis mode."

"I just hope people will understand that they don't need to feel bad to go use it," Rabe said. "You don't need to be in a hole — just come take a break and try it out. Mental health issues (make it) so hard to go do something new."

Added Lawson: "It's been really positive. The growth has been slow because getting used to new things takes time. We hope to have a lot of growth in the future, but there have already been some really great things that have come out of it."