"West 47th Street" Documentary Airs Sunday

On Sunday, April 7th, the WORLD Channel, public television’s news and nonfiction channel, will broadcast the documentary West 47th Street, as part of the series America ReFramed.

Memories of Jerry Dincin

Jerry Dincin (1930 - 2013) worked at Fountain House from 1958 to 1964. He was the first person charged with replicating the Fountain House model, developing two programs in New Jersey before moving to Chicago to become the Executive Director of Thresholds. The Fountain House communitiy offers sincere condolences to Mr. Dincin's family and friends.

sites/default/files/Jerry-Dincin.jpgThe year I came to Fountain House, 1964, turned out to be Jerry's last year before taking the position of Executive Director of Thresholds, a new Clubhouse/Psychosocial Rehabilitation/Psychiatric Rehabilitation program in Chicago. During that year I didn't get to spend much time with Jerry, because he was out developing Friendship House and Prospect House, two new programs in New Jersey. (It seems that in this period the replication of the Fountain House model would be carried out, in a hands-on manner, by trained Fountain House staff.) Jerry was highly regarded by all and could or should have been the assistant director of Fountain House.

After Jerry moved to Chicago and sometime after I was appointed Program Director at Fountain House, then-Executive Director John Beard asked me to join him on a two-day trip to attend a conference in Chicago. The first evening after we arrived, we met Jerry for dinner. John and Jerry talked about many things, but I clearly remember their conversation about starting a professional organization made up of Psychosocial Rehabilitation programs. Jerry was very excited about the prospect of such an organization.

On the plane ride home, John appointed me as the Fountain House representative to help develop any formal professional organization. I should explain that from approximately 1972 to 1980 a group of programs identifying themselves as psychosocial rehabilitation programs were meeting annually to share theory, research and program innovations. The participants at these early meetings were made up of a small group of programs: Fountain House in New York, Thresholds in Chicago, Horizon House in Philadelphia, Hill House in Cleveland, Friendship House and Prospect House in New Jersey, Forward House in Montreal, and a few others made up the core programs that met in the early days.

As time went by the number of programs sending staff to these annual meetings grew until, at the urging of Jerry and Irv Rutman, the Executive Director of Horizon House, a working group was formed to plan the creation of a formal professional organization: the International Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation Services (IAPSRS).

Once it became clear that an organization would be formed, John provided support by allowing for my involvement and participation. As a representative of Fountain House and later as the Director of The Club (in New Jersey), I socialized and worked with Jerry and the other founding IAPSRS members to create and grow the organization. Jerry and I also co-chaired some of the more exciting symposia in which we debated the importance of program cohesion and program diversity. Also, to my chagrin, we competed for a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) training grant that he won for Thresholds. In all my dealings with him, I came to know him as a creative and passionate soldier and advocate for people with mental illness with a fierceness and dedication that is hard to duplicate.

Julius Lanoil
Consultant and former Program Director, Fountain House


Parents and Kids at High Point Farm

sites/default/files/highpoint-group.jpgLast month, Fountain House members and staff brought their children for a weekend at High Point Farm. It was great fun! There were 19 people in total (we barely fit in the chalet!), eight of them children ranging from 6 months to 12 years.

Ecstatic screaming and laughter dominated as the background noise in the chalet while seven of the kids played games of "Zombie" and "Stuck in the Mud" for hours on end. Oblivious to the need for food or sleep, the kids were in heaven as they barreled through each room, banged on the piano, and basically created chaos. Parents attempted to have conversation, play Scrabble or watch a movie, with some success. The only compelling distraction for these blissful children was the announcement that it was time to feed the animals. Then it was time for the cats and chickens to scatter in all directions to avoid the games of tag and reenactment of WWE matches that took place throughout the farm.
Somehow we were all fed, slept well, and left a clean house, despite the kids ruling the house. In the end, all parents were satisfied as the kids said their tearful goodbyes and promised to come back for a spring reunion. Plans were made to schedule more Parents and Kids weekends in the coming year.
Nancy Young
Employment Unit Leader, Fountain House

Fountain Gallery at the "Arts in Mind" Festival

On Saturday, March 16, Fountain Gallery Director Jason Bowman participated in a panel discussion with other leaders of innovative programs of the arts in mental health at the first-ever

Directors' Training: The View from Down Under

sites/default/files/luke-and-nick_0.jpgMy name is Luke Terry and I am the Executive Director of Toowoomba Clubhouse in Australia.

I’ve just completed comprehensive clubhouse model training at Fountain House. This training was once again another true example of Fountain House’s innovation and commitment to developing strong clubhouses across the globe.

In this magical training we covered the basic principles of a working community, including the Fountain House history, member choice, the need to be needed, and creating a collaborative work environment.

The core group included six directors from Italy, Sweden, the United States, and of course, Australia. With the core group being made up of directors, it helped us define our ultimate role in the clubhouse community and explore together the true meaning of what started on West 47th Street New York more than sixty years ago.

If I were to summarize what makes me so excited about my last two weeks here at Fountain House, it would be not about a model that is 65 years old, but more a way of helping people with mental illness that has recovery, innovation, and strategic direction at the heart of all that it does. For directors like me, these three principles that are practiced every day at Fountain House are paramount to its success. We as directors need to accurately illustrate them in own communities across the world.

I attended with one of our members, Nick, who helped me to keep fresh in my mind the true member needs of the Toowoomba Clubhouse and to reflect on our daily discussions and what they really mean for our community in Toowoomba.

Luke Terry
Executive Director, Toowoomba Clubhouse



Mad About Art: Fountain Gallery's Big Night Out

There was a chill in the air on the evening of February 28th

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  • Fountain House Honored by National Council

    The Fountain House Supported Education program is rooted in its successful "working community" approach.We are pleased to announce that Fountain House has received the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare’s Award of Excellenc

    Guns and Mental Illness

    sites/default/files/gun_registry_0.jpgIn a recent Fountain House blog, Summer Berman addressed the renewed stigmatization of those living with mental illness, which has become so common in recent discussions of gun violence. It is now a popular reaction, particularly from those who want to promote the widespread possession of guns, to say that mental health treatment should be expanded in order to “control” people with mental disorders. Enhancing the availability of mental health care is, of course, an important goal, but as Summer pointed out, such efforts would have little impact on the overall rate of violence, because people with serious mental illnesses actually commit only a very small percentage of violent crimes. Most violent crimes are committed by people without major mental illness.

    There is, however, a more prevalent issue that involves guns and those with mental illness, and that is the issue of suicide. Many people do not realize that the number of gun homicides in this country has been decreasing significantly over the past twenty years. While there were 17,000 homicides in the US using guns in 1993, there were only about 11,000 such deaths in 2011. During the same period, the number of gun suicides has not decreased but has actually increased slightly. In 2011 there were around 20,000 suicides using guns, almost twice the number of people killed in gun homicides.

    Guns provide the most reliably fatal way of committing suicide. Whereas suicide attempts by overdosing on pills are not usually fatal (probably less than 15 % of the time) suicide with guns is almost always fatal (probably 85% of the time or more.) Many suicides are not planned in advance; often, suicide is an impulsive act. Having a gun readily available makes an impulsive suicide attempt much more likely to be fatal. Comparing the suicide rates in different states seems to bear this out: states with the highest suicide rates (e.g. Alaska, Montana, Wyoming) have almost three times as many suicides per 100,000 people, compared to low-suicide states like New York and New Jersey. In the high suicide states, as many as 60% of people keep guns at home, whereas in New York and New Jersey, relatively fewer people do (perhaps 12-18%).

    The factors that determine the suicide rate are very complex. They certainly include the prevalence of mental illness, including PTSD; the prevalence of substance abuse; the degree of stigma toward mental illness, which can deter people from acknowledging that they need help; as well as the availability of mental health care for those who do seek it. But one hypothesis generated by considering the data quoted above would be this: that the lower availability of guns kept in the home tends to protect people in New York and New Jersey from the risk of death by impulsive suicide.

    If we take the issue of suicide prevention seriously, it is abundantly clear that much of the heated debate about guns in the media and in Congress is irrelevant to suicide. Laws restricting the sale of semi-automatic rifles and large magazines would have no impact on the problem of suicide, since most gun suicides require only a single bullet. Some regulations might be helpful, for example, requirements for trigger locks or storage of weapons in locked cases. Even these measures, however, do not protect the person who has the key. And while many gun owners reassure themselves that they don’t have to worry about suicide, the fact is that no one knows whether they might be seriously depressed five years from now.

    Changing our gun culture – for example, moderating the idea that guns are necessary everywhere for home defense – will continue to be a very long-term process.  (One piece of good news is reflected in another, front page Sunday Times article this week: the rate at which people keep guns in their homes has in fact been decreasing gradually all across the country in recent decades.) In a way the problem is similar to the overall problem of stigma, because attitudes about the risks of guns in the home, like attitudes about the risks and dangers of mental illness, tend to change slowly in response to public education. For this reason, our continuing efforts at addressing these issues realistically and without stigmatizing those with mental illness are that much more important.

    Howard Owens, MD
    Forensic Psychiatrist
    Board of Directors, Fountain House



    Mental Illness and Violence: The Advocate's Dilemma

    With the recent prominence of gun violence in the media due to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, we as mental health advocates are in a very precarious situation. The discussions resulting from this atrocity have centered around two topics: gun control and expansion of mental health services. While we may vary in our stances on gun control, increasing the public discussion about mental illness is every mental health advocate’s dream—unless the backdrop of that conversation is violent crime.

    The uneducated public and the story-hungry media are quick to jump to conclusions about the mental health status of people such as Adam Lanza and others who commit these horrible crimes. They are quick to label these troubled young men as “mentally ill.” And perhaps they are. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, for a very small percentage of people—those with “episode[s] of psychosis, especially psychosis associated with paranoia and so-called ‘command hallucinations,’ the risk of violence is increased.” Co-occurring substance abuse or childhood antisocial behavior may increase the risk of violence. But the majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

    Thus, when we use the risk of violence as a rationale for better and more available services for people with mental illness, we also put at risk all the good works we have done over the years to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. When we conflate mental illness and violence we do ourselves and our community a disservice.

    For decades, Fountain House and other mental health organizations have fought to educate the public as well as the government about the causes and effects of mental illness - to challenge the myth that people with mental illness are violent, unintelligent, worthless, lazy, incompetent, and dependent. While we certainly know that some people with mental illness are prone to violence, we also know that some members of the general population are prone to violence for some of the same reasons. When factors such as substance abuse, being a victim of violence (physical or sexual), and poor school performance as a youth are present, the likelihood of a person committing a violent crime increases. These factors play a role whether or not a mental illness is present.

    As advocates, it is our role to take advantage of every opportunity to engage the public in productive dialogue and agitate for more and better mental health services. But we must also weigh the cost of increasing our visibility in the gun control and violent crime debate. We must be cautious, like any social movement, that we do not let an extreme example represent our entire population and movement to the general public.

    My diagnosis of depression does not make me a violent person. Most people with mental illness are not perpetrators of violent crime. As a movement, we must be sure to take hold of this opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness and push for improved funding and delivery of services. But we must be clear that we stand by our statement that people with mental illness can be and are productive members of society - that our communities are not put at risk by including people with mental illness in our schools, homes, and businesses, but rather enhanced and improved by the depth and breadth of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and talents we bring to the table.

    Summer Berman
    Michael Walther Executive Fellow, Fountain House


    Delivering "Unconditional Love" to US Veterans

    sites/default/files/table-layout_0.jpgFrom February 1st to February 15th, the United War Veterans Council (UWVC) embarked upon their 5th Annual Goodwill Valentine’s Caravan series – their effort to mobilize the public to send messages of love and gratitude for our veterans, military service members, and their families. I joined them on their visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

    What can I say about my trip?

    “AMAZING” does not do it justice! To see the gratitude, the joy, the smiles on the wounded veterans at Walter Reed - to see grace at its peak - conjured emotions I’d not yet experienced!

    At times it was hard to hold composure. I wanted to hug the vets. I wanted to scream and say, “Why did this have to happen to such a young population that has such a long road ahead, a long life to live? WHY?” Then to hear a wounded soldier say, “At least I’ve been given the chance to live; my buddies never came home,” shook me to my core and brought me back to the present moment. The gratitude of this wounded soldier - his zest for life, his acknowledgment that, though he lost limbs, he was a better person for it, because at least he had his life and now valued life in a different way - reminded me of how lucky we are to live in a country in which we feel free to do as we please. Yet freedom is not free! This was a WOW moment, and I reflected upon it for a long time. I’m grateful for this experience and the emotions it conjured, even though, as a soldier, I’d been trained to “suck it up!”

    We also visited Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County, Virginia, the base I once knew as my home base. It truly brought up sentiments I had long forgotten. It has become a place of tranquility for wounded soldiers, a place that made me proud of having served, a place that seemed like home. It was a true joy to see the faces of the veterans when they received the Valentine’s Day cards made by staff and members of the Fountain House Clerical Unit, and vets particularly loved and remarked upon our hand-made bookmarks. I was delighted and honored to introduce Fountain House to the veteran community

    As a nation, we grapple with how to provide the best mental healthcare for our veterans, but it makes so much sense for Fountain House-model programs to be part of the transition phase for veterans. It was clear to me how the Fountain House working community could be vital to suicide prevention for veterans.

    Everyone from the United War Veterans Council exhibited a solidarity that flowed naturally. I was reminded of “one for all and all for one!” I am sincerely thankful to have joined the group that was traveling to DC to deliver “Unconditional Love.” To give without conditions, to give without expecting to receive anything in return - that is the true meaning of “giving of oneself.” I am forever grateful for this experience!

    Although I separated from the Service in 2006, it felt like I never left; the camaraderie was automatic. I’m flattered and honored to have represented Fountain House to the community that has sworn under oath to serve and protect the United States of America. I am a proud American; I am a proud Fountain House staff!

    Jennifer Rivera
    Director of Human Resources, Fountain House

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