At 59 avenue de la République, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, a room with large windows bordered in black sports a large “La Maison Whye” sticker. This Thursday evening, for the first time, the windows fog up. Inside, the silhouettes move. About a hundred people flocked to attend the inauguration of this rather particular place which will open its doors to members on December 1st and to the general public in January. A non-medical place for young people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia based on mutual help, listening and sharing experiences. Three of its four young founders and founders, Maxime Perez-Zitvogel, Lucille Zolla, Caroline Matte and Victoria Leroy, suffer from one of these two ailments.
20 hours. The four thirty-year-olds take the stage in front of relatives, volunteers and various patrons. “I understood that the hospital was not very hospitable for me,” says Victoria Leroy, who has been admitted to many psychiatric hospitals. I needed a home, for myself but also for other wanderers. Maxime Perez-Zitvogel recovers the microphone: “I was lucky to have a roof, something to eat and to have loved ones who supported me. But not everyone is so lucky. Maxime’s sister turns and looks tenderly at her mother.
Discussion groups, workshops and pairs
It is to combat this loneliness that Maison Whye was born. Hana Levy-Soussan, 29, is present on stage. The student had just completed her master’s degree in psychology when she was hospitalized for four months due to her bipolar disorder, diagnosed in June 2020. loneliness, the fact that no one understood what I was saying”, the young woman confided to us once she got off the stage.
So, when she discovered Maison Whye, she didn’t hesitate. “We find ourselves with people who have had more or less similar experiences, so we come out of this loneliness. When many of us are angry, we no longer feel angry. »
On the walls, a frieze summarizes the path taken by the association since its inception in 2020. If discussion groups, workshops and conversations in pairs could already be held online for almost a year, Parisians will now be able to go to the large premises of the association to participate. A large hall with a high ceiling in the heart of the capital that founders and volunteers took the time to find and which also houses a café at its entrance, open to all.
A sharing of experiences
In front of the frieze, drawings made by community members and QR codes provide information on various disorders, in order to destigmatize mental illness. “In my day, the stigma was even greater,” says Rémi, one of the older, albeit relatively young, volunteers. The nearly 40-year-old began by leading discussion groups and receiving “hour-long phone calls from people who weren’t feeling very well and wanted to talk.”
Before joining Maison Whye, she had never met people with bipolar disorder like him, aside from his stays in a psychiatric hospital and said he wanted to “share his experience.” The engineer is married, father of two children and has worked in large companies and abroad. “While leading support groups, I found that it gave a lot of hope to young people who were recently diagnosed and didn’t know it was possible. »
Trained volunteers for one year
The training of “peer helpers” is Hana who takes care of it. The trained psychologist, who today prefers the title of “psychomadness”, recruits, trains and accompanies dozens of volunteers. People who have taken a step back from their disorder and with whom young people can identify. Continuing education lasts one year. “I teach them how to lead a discussion group, accompany each other in the most useful way possible, tell their story moving from our raw experience to experiential knowledge,” she says, jokingly. People who have been supported are encouraged to help out once they are on the road to recovery.
At Maison Whye, volunteers and members address all the questions that a young person living with mental illness may have. “In particular, we organize workshops on the theme of ‘knowing your rights better’,” explains Clara, a volunteer studying law. “We explain, for example, how to justify a long absence due to hospitalization on your CV”. Questions that people don’t necessarily ask their psychiatrist, the same way they do about their intimate life, their studies or their family life.
Families have not been forgotten either, as there are also discussion groups for relatives. Florence, who proudly wears her “volunteer” badge, is one of them. The mother of the family joined Maison Whye following the diagnosis of her 19-year-old son. Today she coordinates support groups for relatives. “For the moment my son does not want to participate, the mother regrets. But at least she knows he exists. »
During the evening, two volunteers take a look at the summary frieze and see how far we’ve come. The four founders are now employees. They managed to recruit 25 volunteers and the Chamber already has about a hundred members. A house that never stops growing.