Afiya strives to provide a safe space in which each person can find the balance and support needed to turn what is so often referred to as a ‘crisis’ into a learning and growth opportunity. Through peer-to-peer support and access to a variety of resources, individuals are offered the opportunity to avoid hospitalization and other more invasive measures and explore what is happening for them in the moment and how they want to move forward. This approach is values driven and expects that all people present (including those who are struggling) take some responsibility for how they are in the space and self-determine how they will make use of the resources and time available.
Afiya is a three-bedroom house based in Northampton, Massachusetts. It is the only peer respite in Massachusetts and one of just 16 in the country. It is available to anyone ages 18 and older who is experiencing distress and feels they would benefit from being in a short-term, 24-hour peer-supported environment with others who have ‘been there.’ Typical stays at Afiya range from one to seven days. There is no clinical presence, although people are welcome to stay connected to providers in the community as desired.
The idea that people may be best supported by others who understand some of what they might be going through and are willing to listen still rings as ‘new’ in today’s world. That that sort of support can be invaluable to people who are at the brink of hospitalization, are talking about suicide, are hearing distressing voices… is newer still. Afiya cuts out the vast majority of red tape, does not ask for diagnosis or whether someone is taking medications, does not require treatment plans or daily notes, and yet is making a difference every day in people’s lives. Feedback has included comments such as:
“I’ll never go back to the hospital again”; and
“Never before had I had such trust and respect bestowed on me as a human being. It gave me faith.”
Finding the creativity in being human with one another changes lives and will change the world.
Although only 2 ½ years ‘old,’ Afiya has taken real leadership in furthering the national peer respite vision and supporting other respites to develop. Afiya has been invited to speak at multiple national conferences in several states (Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, etc.), and most recently was also invited to present in Denmark. Many have also traveled to the house itself to learn from the work of the Afiya team. For example, people have come from New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and California as well as Germany, England, and Australia. The team also recently developed a 25 minute film that speaks not only to Afiya itself, but to the concept of peer respite in general. It is the first film of its kind. Additionally, and in response to the increasing number of inquiries, the team has begun to work on a manual for understanding and building peer respites.
At this time, Afiya is primarily funded by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health who has, thus far, gone out of their way to work with the Afiya team in support of their mission and the value of being genuinely driven by people who have ‘been there.’ Afiya is also connected to the larger Western Mass Recovery Learning Community and gains natural support from the expertise (grant-writing and otherwise) of RLC team members who have been around for more years than the Afiya crew. Afiya has also partnered with the National Empowerment Center at times to offer trainings and resource sharing with other groups doing similar work. Finally and most importantly, Afiya is supported by a large and diverse community of people, many of whom were a part of the early visioning process, and all of whom are deeply invested in seeing the respite continue and grow.
Afiya receives calls or e-mails at least once per week from individuals and groups across the country who are interested in building a peer respite in their area. Although finding that initial funding to start-up a respite house can be challenging, people are making it happen through a mix of federal and state grants and private donors. Given the proper funding, Afiya is highly replicable. It requires only space, time, commitment and a willingness to both unlearn and integrate new understanding of how we can be with and support one another to examine how we walk through this world and how that is or is not working for us.
Afiya conducts yearly reviews of outputs and outcomes. In its first two years of existence, people stayed at Afiya 273 times. The most common (by far) reason for someone not coming to stay at Afiya was lack of space. Although many people coming into the respite stated they were trying to avoid hospitalization (including, for some, threats of forced hospitalization), only 4% of the 273 stays ended in someone going to a clinical setting upon departure. Of that 4%, only three people went to psychiatric hospitalizations. The other 9 went to clinical respite houses, most often due to housing issues. On the other hand, of those surveyed who had stayed at the house, over 70% reported that they would have gone to a hospital or clinical respite if staying at Afiya had not been an option. Additional outcomes are available in the annual surveys attached below.