Mental Health and the Power of Our Connections

August 22, 2022

By Denise D. Resnik, Founder & President/CEO, First Place® AZ

In his latest book titled Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health, Thomas Insel, MD and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health asserts that “the crisis of care is not just lack of access but lack of engagement.” Dr. Insel also talks about how, more than any pharmaceutical intervention, “connection” in dealing with mental health challenges can be part of the cure. This concept is of great interest to us here at First Place AZ as we recognize frequent co-occurring conditions in people with autism and other neurodiversities.

Dr. Insel further explains that “social connection is not simply the absence of loneliness. Connection, experienced as support, attachment or love has a power that has not been studied sufficiently. Ethnographers have tried to track this in other societies where there are cultural norms for connection that are critical for well-being—norms that we lack in America in individualistic culture.”

That’s why First Place–Phoenix offers healthy doses of community life programming connecting residents with their neighbors and the broader community through recreation, education, and unique activities and experiences. We emphasize personal health through exercise, yoga, mindfulness and more. Last year alone, our team led more than 1,600 engagement opportunities bringing residents out of their apartments to connect—and create lasting, collective memories that also build relationships and community. It’s also why we tag First Place–Phoenix as “a diverse community of pride, purpose and endless possibilities®.”

We continue to advance plans with public and private insurance interests to fund supportive housing stipends and programs that are leading to healthier, more successful outcomes for people with autism and intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Since the opening of First Place–Phoenix four years ago and the start of our two-year Transition Academy program seven years ago, we’ve been collecting data demonstrating how more people are benefiting from purpose-filled days and an ecosystem of community support—at First Place and in what PBS NewsHour acknowledges as “the most autism-friendly city in the world.”

Dr. Insel acknowledges that the three Ps—people, place and purpose—are the simplest and least expensive interventions, adding “in a rational world, the three Ps would be the floor— the ubiquitous foundation for treatment. Yet social support, supportive housing, and individual placement and support are exceptional, not standard.”

We’re doing our best to make it standard for the populations we serve and lead through the power of our example in collaboration with like-minded leaders from around the world. We’re also working hard to add “programs and policy” to make it the five Ps!

Join us for First Place’s 11th Global Leadership Institute Symposium, Oct. 19–21, in person or via webinar and hear more valuable insights firsthand from Dr. Insel, our keynote speaker. Check out the wide-ranging, in-depth agenda and register here.

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