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The new North Mississippi State Hospital clinical director, Dr. Dilyana Milev, wants to welcome the community to help support those recovering from mental illness.

TUPELO • Psychiatrist Dr. Dilyana Milev has plans to remake North Mississippi State Hospital.

It’s not just new paint and art work for the walls. The new clinical director wants to break down the barriers between the community and the patients.

Feeling connected to the community outside the hospital helps with the healing process and makes it easier when the patients go home, Milev said.

“If the community is more involved, things get better,” Milev said.

In the past few months, Plantersville Middle School students have come to make Halloween masks and Christmas ornaments with patients. Tupelo High School performing groups have hosted concerts for them. Tupelo High art students are working on pieces to add to the hospital’s walls. A volunteer instructor leads yoga twice a week, and patients have access to an on demand program for yoga and meditation.

“We are already seeing some changes,” Milev said. “I really feel we are making a turn.”

Shifting approach

Just as physical medicine has moved to patient-centered care, so has psychiatry.

“It’s not just about correcting symptoms,” said Milev, who has practiced in North Mississippi for 19 years and has served as a clinical psychiatrist for VA Hospital in Memphis, Access Family Health and the state hospital before taking on her new role. “It’s about helping them to be the human beings they want to be.”

Instead of just managing symptoms, there’s increased emphasis on helping patients define and reach the goals they have for their own treatment.

“Previously the doctor listened and then prescribed a course of treatment,” Milev said. “Now we’re trying to shift the balance.”

It’s a paradigm the staff at the state hospital has embraced.

“We have a wonderful team of people here,” Milev said. “They are so engaged.”

The state hospital has three teams, each consisting of a psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, psychologist and social worker, assigned to care for the hospital’s 50 patients. They are backed up by nurses, mental health technicians and counselors.

In both group and individual sessions, there’s a lot of emphasis on social skills, observation and self-reflection. It can be simple things like going to the bank to make a deposit and withdraw money. It can be more complex, like how to manage difficult situations with family members.

“We’re giving them a chance to practice real world situations,” Milev said.

Open doors

While visitors need to respect privacy rules, there are lots of opportunities for the community to help the hospital’s patients on their journey, Milev said. Guest instructors would be welcomed in their weekly art class. Arts groups are welcome to come perform. The hospital staff is putting together libraries for the patients, so books, DVDs and sports and dancing Xbox games are appreciated.

Some patients don’t have bags when it’s time to go home, so donations of suitcases and basic toiletries can be very helpful.

People don’t need to be afraid to engage with patients at the state hospital, Milev said. Although they were found to be a danger to themselves or others to be committed to the hospital, that period of crisis is typically very short. People who are still in crisis or showing aggressive behavior don’t participate in group activities with visitors, and staff is always on hand.

Being part of the healing process for people with mental illness is an incredible blessing, Milev said.

“I want the community to have this opportunity,” Milev said.

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