UA mental health program wins national recognition

Published: Sep. 14, 2016 at 2:31 PM MST|Updated: Sep. 14, 2016 at 10:59 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The University of Arizona's Camp Wellness has won a 2016 Recognition of Excellence in Wellness Award from the federal government.

The University of Arizona program is for adults with serious mental illness. The UA says Camp Wellness, established in 2009, helps clients develop healthy lifestyles. It's a nine-week program that the UA said significantly improves the health of adults living with serious mental illnesses.

It does it by treating the whole person in mind, body and spirit.

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recognized only three such programs for 2016.

In a news release, the UA said:

"The UA Department of Family and Community Medicine developed Camp Wellness in response to national studies that show adults with serious mental illnesses have a shorter life expectancy than other adults; 25 fewer years on average, nationally, but 32 fewer years in Arizona. The even shorter life expectancy in Arizona is partly due to chronic diseases, including the state’s higher incidence of diabetes, which often is accompanied by poor nutrition, obesity, heart disease and other illnesses, said Dr. Randa Kutob, Camp Wellness medical director."

Two graduates of Camp Wellness spoke with Tucson News Now about the program that has changed their lives.

Vonnie Jones survived both attacks on the Twin Towers.

After 9-11 Jones was diagnosed with PTSD and major depression.

"One of the things that I would never do before camp wellness was to leave my house on September the 11th. I can do that now. I can actually walk out the door, get on public transportation and go places and be among people. I don't have that fear that something bad is going to happen. They gave me that," said Vonnie Jones. "I don't think of it as recovery, per se. One of things I got from Camp Wellness is that I became resilient. Because I'm never really going to recover from the PTSD or the depression. So for me, resilience is more important because, even if I fall back down, I can bounce back up and go on and that's what I got from Camp Wellness."

Lane Johnson said he was reluctant at first, but warmed up to Camp Wellness.

"At first when they were talking about being positive and I went, Yes, wishful thinks and I was just like almost like letting it bounce off. I was like almost too jaded. But finally they get you involved in being a positive person and being a good person and developing the skills of relationship and personal responsibility, personal authority. And so in a nine-week program, it gets to you," Johnson said.

"You can learn how to basically get your positive track and your neurons to create a positive lifestyle, and not get hung up on negativity or regrets, and basically getting a fresh start every day with their mindfulness program," Johnson said.

Jones now volunteers with Camp Wellness.

Johnson is working on becoming a recovery support specialist.

To hear Vonnie Jones story of how she survived on 9/11 though she was on the 69th floor of the South Tower, click on the second video above.

Copyright 2016 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.