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Comfort zone established for mental illness

Nettie Nolen and Linda Johnson were busy setting up a drop-in center for the mentally ill Monday morning in an upstairs room at St. Bridget Catholic Church. Johnson, of River Falls, will be one of the volunteer hosts. Nolen said the new drop-in center can be very helpful because "isolation and loneliness are major problems in mental health disorders. There is also a hope," she said, "that the acts of simply leaving the house and interacting with others are healthy and life giving." The drop-in center is ...

Over the years Nettie Nolen has been hospitalized and treated for bipolar II disorder.

This means she's had to endure reoccurring bouts of severe depression.

Beyond vital medical care, Nolen says what a person with a mental sickness often needs most is camaraderie.

"It's good to be with peers, those who've been through mental-health issues," Nolen said. "You can learn that things in life can get better."

Nolen, a 1969 River Falls High School graduate, has helped form a relatively new group out of New Richmond called The Castle Center.

Just over a year ago the group opened a free volunteer-run drop-in center for the mentally ill in that city.

The drop-in center is an informal gathering place to socialize, do activities, listen to motivational speakers and be directed to other relevant resources.

"We've served approximately 50 different individuals and averaged about six persons a week attending," said Nolen about New Richmond's The Castle Center. "It has been a slow start, but people have expressed their gratefulness already. Friendships have developed. People see people outside of the Thursdays we've been open."

Because about a third of those who came to the New Richmond drop-in center drove from River Falls, it was decided to open a similar drop-in center in River Falls.

The location is at St. Bridget Catholic Church in the upper level above the administrative offices.

Nolen said the River Falls Castle Center drop-in center will "partner" with the River Falls-based Our Neighbors' Place, an organization that formed two years ago to serve the homeless population.

"Many homeless clients struggle with anxiety or depression," Nolen said.

A former high school classmate of Nolen's, the Rev. Jerry Harris is the head pastor at St. Bridget's and also a key supporter of Our Neighbors' Place. The gathering space at his church was offered rent free.

The drop-in center will be open Mondays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Based on her own experiences with depression, Nolen says he Castle Center drop-in has potential to serve a valuable community function.

"When things started to improve and my need for professional services declined, I still needed people to talk to that had 'been there,'" she said. "And I needed to share my hope.

"I know very few people struggling with mental health issues who believed their quality of life could improve. The process of getting involved with the Castle Center has assured me that there are lots of people who are feeling better about themselves with improved quality of life."

Nolen, who now lives in New Richmond, said The Castle Center is going through the legal process of becoming a registered 501c tax-exempt, nonprofit organization.

The upper level large room at St. Bridget's will have space set aside for snacks, refreshments, coffee, cards, crafts, board games, pool and air hockey tables. A row of windows facing north allows plenty of natural light.

The Castle Center also has an unofficial link for support and guidance with St. Croix County Health and Human Services.

The group has begun fundraising through area churches and individuals.

The number to call for questions about Castle Center is 715-410-7302. By email, the address is

Nolen said Castle Center always is in need of basic donated items, such as paper products, healthy treats, craft materials and art supplies, furniture, small filing cabinet and an Internet-ready computer with Windows XP.