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Summer Solstice 2019

July 11, 2019

Hopewell Creates a Community, Offers Growth for Mentally Ill

MESOPOTAMIA, Ohio — GPS won’t take you all the way to Hopewell Farm. It guides you most of the way but, for the final stretch, you’re on your own.

The same is true of the farm itself. Designed as a farm-based residential treatment facility for those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and major depression, Hopewell aims to give its patients the skills they need to live as independently as possible after they leave.

The goal, Clinical Director Daniel B. Horne says, is for patients to “have a life they didn’t have before.”

For six months or more, residents live and work on a 300-acre farm just outside Middlefield, in Trumbull County, about an hour southeast of Cleveland. They do chores, care for the goats, cattle and horses and participate in clinical groups like dialectical behavior therapy, which focuses on changing negative thought patterns. Residents also learn practical skills like how to maintain a household, interview for a job and navigate insurance.

Hopewell is among a handful of therapeutic farms in the country and the only one in Ohio. It is a private-pay facility, meaning insurance doesn’t cover the cost of treatment.

Most residents are in their 20s and 30s, newly diagnosed with chronic mental illness and learning how to cope with their new reality. Many have tried other, more traditional treatment methods — short-term hospital stays, residential treatment, medication — but without success, and are looking for another option, Hopewell staff say.

Beyond medication

In the medical community, the standard of care for many of the diagnoses treated at Hopewell is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Horne says that, at Hopewell, medications are “not the first line of defense,” characterizing them as something that can augment the ability to socialize and make connections with other people.

“Medication alone won’t do it. It will never do it,” Horne said.

Abbey Taylor, a 21-year-old with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, wants to try to manage her symptoms without medication. Ultimately, Taylor wants “some independence and freedom” from her symptoms.

Hopewell is her second residential treatment center since she was diagnosed five years ago and is more than four hours away from her home in Cincinnati.

“It feels a little more purposeful,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’m not only getting better but contributing to the community.” Taylor is on the farm crew and is responsible for collecting eggs, work she said feels “meaningful.” Her family visits regularly and her best friend even brought his dogs up for a visit recently.

At the farm, animal-assisted therapy is added to the mix. While studies show that interaction with cats and dogs can lower stress, there is little research on the benefits of farm animals for psychiatric disorders. One study by Norwegian researchers found that working with farm animals improved the self-efficacy and coping mechanisms of the participants; however, the authors said “more research is needed to better understand to what extent and how farm animal-assisted therapy or interventions can benefit the participants.”

Building relationships

Hopewell focuses on creating a community for the residents and bringing families and residents together in treatment.

“It’s devastating for a human. It’s devastating for a family. Folks with these diagnoses, these mental health disorders, they frequently lose all of the stuff that most of us take for granted that we get from our communities. They lose jobs, work, even family, friends and church,” Horne said. “They lose any sense of community that they had.”

Because those around them often don’t know how to handle the drastic mood changes — or struggles with reality — of someone with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder or depression, many see their loved ones withdraw, Horne said.

“For a lot of people, they’ve been isolated,” said Laura Scarnecchia, Hopewell director of admissions. That’s why Hopewell tries to help its 30 or so residents learn how to work together to care for the farm, learn coping skills and prepare for their lives off of the farm.

Jackie Schiemann of Mayfield normally lives alone and appreciates the community aspect of the farm. “It’s definitely been really helpful — the structure and the community,” she said.

While knitting a scarlet and gray scarf in the art room — she’s known for her love of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Ohio State University — Schiemann said she was excited about movie night. The residents planned to watch “Vice” later that night.

Schiemann has been at Hopewell since January and came once before for four months last year.

“We created a community,” Horne said. “It’s not meant as a permanent thing. … It’s meant for them to learn how to reconnect to a community.”

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