At Fountain House, we are constantly improving our working community approach by tackling some of the most intractable challenges in mental health. Over the years, we’ve made concerted efforts to address the specific challenges that young adults who are living with mental illness experience, but it’s proven to be a knotty problem. Why do they continue to fall through the cracks? How can we better reach them? What obstacles do they typically face? And what kinds of resources do they need?
Most young people don’t get the mental health support they need to move forward with their lives. Often, they age out of mental healthcare programs available to children and lack the necessary resources to access mental healthcare programs for adults. Considering that many mental illnesses first take hold during adolescence and early adulthood, a tremendous opportunity exists to intervene in the initial stages, potentially saving people years of disruption and struggle.
We reached out and surveyed the hundreds of young people who had come through our green doors in the past several years – those who stayed and become part of the Fountain House community, as well as those who drifted away. We compiled the data, and for months, members and staff in our Wellness Unit discussed and debated how to make our community more responsive to young adults. Eventually we developed UNITY – Understanding, Networking, and Integrating Transitional Youth.
UNITY offers young adults, ages 16 – 25, socialization, one-on-one mentoring, and help connecting to resources and programs in the community. The application process is simplified and streamlined, and entry is immediate. Participants meet weekly for eight weeks.
“We found that many young people in this age range needed answers more than anything else,” says Fountain House social worker and UNITY co-leader, Joe Shaffer. “They may be coming to understand the impact and permanence of their mental health diagnosis on their daily lives and looking to see what help and resources are available. Or they may be simply looking for a community of people in similar situations, willing and able to dialog about what it all means."
UNITY meets at 5:30 on Monday evenings in the Fountain House Wellness Kitchen, where the group begins by preparing and eating a meal together. This collaborative project eases them into the more serious work ahead and lets participants, member/mentors, and staff leaders get comfortable with one another before opening up about complex personal matters.
On one level, UNITY is an intake group that gives young people a chance to learn about Fountain House and whether full membership is right for them. On another level, it’s a problem-solving forum where young people can get help with everything from homelessness and public benefits red tape, to confirming their diagnoses and treatment options, to pursuing a GED.
In its first eight months, the UNITY program has drawn 40 participants, many referred by homeless shelters and inpatient mental health facilities. Here are some of the challenges and goals they brought with them: Challenges
Denial of public benefits
Lack of friends and network
Confusion about how long-term mental illness will affect their lives
Earn a high school diploma or college degree
Find suitable employment
Find trustworthy confidants
One of the most unique components – and biggest successes – of UNITY has been the dedication of our member-mentors. It’s a meaningful way for current members to discover that their knowledge and experience has value, that their time and advice can benefit others, and that they possess the ability, perspective, and empathy to be trusted advisers to people at their most vulnerable. UNITY has enhanced their own sense of self and helped them to stay on the path to mental health.
One mentor, Ashley, remarks, “I feel more responsible about being here on Monday than just about anything else in my life right now. It’s the first commitment I’ve had in years. Since I’ve been keeping it, I’ve been able to add others. Sometimes it’s just easier to show up for someone else than for yourself, you know?”
The UNITY Project has been a remarkable pilot project, and our goal for the future is continued growth. We know the need is there. With the right resources, we can reach more and more young people before they slip through the cracks.
Kate Moyer Wellness Unit and UNITY Co-Leader, Fountain House
Shakespeare said, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” From October 4-7, 2012, the theme of the Performing the World 2012 conference was “Can performance SAVE the world?” Hosted by the All Stars Project and the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy, performers, social workers, therapists, cultural workers, and other professionals from 37 countries answered the question in a series of workshops that ran the spectrum from “Mad World: Voices from Middle School,” to “The Role of the Play in Human Creativity and Development: Lagos State University Theatre Arts Experience,” to “Training Convicts to Be Community Based Theatre Facilitators as a Means to Reintegration in the Community.”
On Friday, October 5th, Jeff Aron, Director of External Affairs; Alan Doyle, Director of Education; Susan McKeown, a Dublin-born, singer/songwriter/Grammy winner; and I offered a panel titled, “Clubs, Communities, Culture: Creating Our Response to Mental Illness.” Our panel addressed the issue of how community and creativity can change the meaning and experience of mental illness.
Susan’s song, “Good Old World Blues,” (poetry by Hayden Carruth) from her latest CD, Singing In The Dark was playing in the background as interested parties entered the room. Jeff, who facilitated our panel, opened the discussion by talking about what is community and creativity and how each played a role in the day-to-day life of those who come to Fountain House. Alan expounded on this theme in a personal way by asking himself, “Am I only an actor at Fountain House during office hours who went off-stage when it was time for him to go home at the end of the day, or am I a permanent cast member in the play that is mental illness?”
This was my second time being on a panel with Jeff in Performing the World, and each time I’ve written a special prose poem for the event; this year I wrote a poem entitled “In My ‘Hood”, which goes, in part, like this:
I’ll soon be back to hanging doll body parts from shadowboxes. As if I could ever leave. As if the world could keep on surviving with less art when what it really needed was more. An act of art created the world, it would take many more to keep it spinning on its head.
Susan spoke last, about how, for her latest CD, she’d set poems that famous poets had written about mental illness to music. The songs are haunting, but Susan gives them voice that resonates with possible salvation.
Following our discussion, the floor was opened to the audience. Many people spoke of how they used creativity in their organizations or how they saw creativity could be used. I was much impressed with Alan’s introspection as it is always interesting to me how those who don’t live with a mental disorder find common ground with people who do.
Jeff is always erudite about creativity and Fountain House, and how the two are perfect partners when it comes to the rhythm of the mind. I’m always thrilled with meeting my creative national and international brothers and sisters, and learning new ways of doing cultural and mental health work that does not necessarily involve medication as an intervention.
Davida Adedjouma, LMSW Education Unit and Board of Directors, Fountain House
In 2009, I was asked to transform Club 57, a locked day treatment program for both in and outpatients from Rockland Psychiatric Center (RPC), into a new program, with the doors open, and modeled on the principles of Recovery. These were my only guidelines. In preparation for thinking about what this new program would look like, I visited many model programs in the tri state area, including Fountain House and Hands Across Long Island.
I had visited Fountain House on a number of occasions during my training as a psychiatrist in New York City and was familiar with the positive energy of the place. While I was a resident at Bellevue Hospital, I worked with people who attended Fountain House and who spoke very highly of the program. The main reason I eventually chose to model our program on Fountain House is that it empowers members to take on central roles in the running and direction of the programs, and consequently, they thrive in taking control over their lives.
I felt that having a clubhouse on the grounds of a State Psychiatric Hospital - where the systems in place don’t seem to engender a sense of hope, agency and self worth in the people we serve - would actually help transform the entire system of Rockland Psychiatric Center into a more Recovery oriented direction.
In late January, 2010, the locked program ceased to exist, and after a quick coat of paint on the walls, the Recovery Center opened. It was an interesting and deeply rewarding experience. The biggest challenge was moving staff and members of a locked program, modeled on day treatment, into a program with the doors wide open, where we requested that members decide what they wanted the program to become.
The members had a lot of ideas, and we were able to quickly group their ideas around 4 units: Employment, Administration, Community Access, and Wellness. I would say that the members had the easiest time making the transformation to the clubhouse and really led the charge. Some staff embraced the model from the first day; others were skeptical, but embraced the model once they saw the progression that people, some of whom they had worked with for many years, began to make as they became more involved in the Recovery Center. Other staff continued to struggle, or appeared disinterested in the model, and did not thrive in the new program.
In our first month, a group of members and staff visited Fountain House, our first of two visits in the first year of opening. At Fountain House, our members and staff worked side by side with Fountain House members in their employment and clerical units and in the horticulture program. After both visits, everyone came back to the Recovery Center with lots of ideas, many of which were implemented in our own program. Some of the highlights in our first year of opening include the following:
Three members of the Recovery Center and a staff member attended a social security and benefits seminar, after which they designed a series of informational workshops that they offered to other members in the Recovery Center.
Two members and the Center’s Director were featured on Health First, a TV show on Cable TV in Westchester County.
Members taught other members how to read bus schedules and maps, and then take public transportation. Members proficient in using public transportation accompanied peers on trial runs of their desired bus path, until they felt comfortable taking busses on their own. One member reported afterwards, “I took my first bus ride in eight years, and I feel great.”
A Recovery Center Choir was formed and has performed on inpatient units, at annual events, and in the community.
A creative arts program was formed, modeled on the Creedmoor Living Museum. The RPC Living Museum now has shows throughout the year, and many artists have been featured in their own shows in galleries and libraries in the community.
Members held the Center’s first open house during the summer of 2010. Politicians and the press were invited. A member who ran her own events planning company taught others how to make a balloon arch for the entrance, and members decorated the space with their own artwork. The choir performed songs, and members provided tours for guests from the community.
One member, a certified public accountant, provided members an ongoing workshop on budgeting.
Three months after opening, we created a Public Service Announcement where the members of the Recovery Center spoke about the impact of stigma on their lives. The PSA was written by members after workshops and discussions about they wanted to convey in the PSA and what they wanted to get out of the experience. The PSA was shown on cable TV stations in the counties where Rockland Psychiatric Center provides care. Check it out on YouTube!
The Recovery Center is now in its third year, and we are currently opening our 2nd clubhouse in Poughkeepsie. By the time this article goes to print, that group will have visited Fountain House, just as RPC’s clubhouse did three years earlier. There have certainly been challenges, most of which come from the funding and regulatory limitations of being connected to a state psychiatric center. However, the benefits and rewards of creating this program have greatly outweighed the frustrations and challenges. Many people have been able to attend the Recovery Center as inpatients, go out in the community, obtain jobs or school admission, and move on from the hospital setting. Members of the Recovery Center serve as models for other patients at RPC; they’re paid to run groups on recovery and to co-lead art groups in clinics and inpatient units. As a result, people who are inpatient see that the Recovery Center can help them achieve their goals, and more importantly, that there is hope and recovery.
Fountain House is pleased to announce the publication of “Work-Ordered Day as a Catalyst of Competitive Employment Success” in the September 2012 issue of the journal Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal.
Thanks so much to everyone for keeping us in your thoughts during Hurricane Sandy.
Fountain House itself is fine, as our neighborhood sustained very little damage. The units have been working diligently to reach out to our membership, which is scattered across the five boroughs. We’ve contacted more than 1000 members, and we are very grateful to report that, while some have been left without electricity, everyone has come through unharmed. We have yet to reach 11 members who had been living in the evacuation zone. We will update you when there are any further developments.
Again, thank you for your many messages of support. We sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are safe.
Steven Pike and Abigail Jackson have been the managers at High Point Farm since 2006. They've had a tremendous impact on our community and on the many visitors to the farm. We wish them all the best. They will be dearly missed.