May is mental health awareness month: La Crosse group offers peer driven support

LA CROSSE (WKBT) – Recovery Avenue, also known as RAVE, is a peer run support group for people dealing with mental health and addiction. In order to be a peer specialist, you must have a lived experience with mental health or addiction.

Waking up and getting out of bed isn’t as simple as it seems.

“I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 13,” said Andia Winchel, a peer specialist at RAVE, said.

For people struggling with mental health and addiction, it’s a choice they have to make every day.

“It’s an everyday battle. You get up and you fight because you have to. This place has become a saving grace for me,” she said.

For over 20 years, RAVE has been providing people struggling with mental health and addition a safe space.

Anyone struggling with mental health or addiction can drop in to talk to a peer specialist, make some art, play games, and get their minds off of their struggles.

“This is just a good place to get your mind off of things,” said coordinator Jessica Kimber.

RAVE’S peer specialists are also in recovery.

“It’s run by the people who have been through the process of recovery,” Kimber said.

Staff members use their experiences to help others going through similar situations.

“Briefly focusing on I have the same experiences as you, but then moving forward into a hopeful spot of ‘these are the things that helped me get out of where I was,'” Kimber said.

The center, which closed down during the pandemic, reopened two months ago. Kimber says many people struggled with mental health issues during the pandemic and new people have visited the center since.

“Mental health deteriorated. A lot of people went back in their recovery,” she said.

Kimber says while strides have been made surrounding mental health, resources and funding is still limited.

She says RAVE helps people stay stable in between doctor’s appointments and recovery.

“Maybe you can come here and maybe you can stay stable and maybe you can have someone to still have that conversation with and set goals with,” Kimber said.

As for Winchel, she hopes she can guide others to recovery.

“It feels wonderful, it feels freeing,” Winchel said.

RAVE is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s located at 1806 State Street near the UW-La Crosse campus.

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