This is not my normal blog on mental illness policy, but since Kenn Dudek is retiring I wanted to say something about him. Kenn has been President of Fountain House for over 25 years and a relentless advocate on behalf of people with the most serious mental illnesses. He is a hero of mine.
After visiting Fountain House Farm once a month for the past nine years, Chaitanya refers to herself as a “veteran”. She is frequently called upon to lead groups of members experiencing the farm for the first time. “Staff rely on veterans like me to go up and show people the ropes … and make sure things are done right.”
I had written in my book of my belief that my brother could have been helped by “programs that would enable him, and others with schizophrenia, to participate in society rather than be pushed to its fringes.” And now, suddenly, I was standing in just such a place.
My mental illness was and is a small part of me, but when I was highly symptomatic I let it define me. I found others that felt like me, and together we began to realize that we were so much more than our mental illness.
Before I became a member of Fountain House Bronx, I did not have anyone to talk about mental illness with. If you told me a year ago that I not only would have an incredible community of support and people to share my experiences with, but that I would also be meeting elected officials and advocating for others with the same mental health struggles, I’d call you crazy!
The 16th Annual Fountain House Symposium and Luncheon on Monday, May 6th was a resounding success. We are pleased to announce that the event was sold out and attracted more than 600 attendees. We raised over $1 million to support our community-based model that improves the lives of people with serious mental illness.
The profound respect and gratitude Tashawna feels for Dr. Aquila, her doctor at Fountain House’s Sidney R. Baer Jr. Center for three years, are well merited. Since becoming his patient, she ended a fifteen-year cycle of hospitalizations that began when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager.
Imagine if every town and every city in the world had a Fountain House, we will gradually be able to reduce the levels of stigma, see people with lived experience valued as community members, enhance recovery and overall health and wellbeing.
As a mental health professional and a teacher in South Korea, longing to see successful deinstitutionalization in our country, I will share this visit with my students, colleagues, and policy makers, so that we, as a country, can reassess our priorities and resources in mental health system in order to make meaningful progress toward deinstitutionalization, which would better serve people with mental illness in the end.
I have chosen this moment to retire because Fountain House is in a good place – with a fantastic set of members and staff. As the organization looks to the future and contemplates an array of new initiatives and opportunities, it is the right time for me to step down and allow a new person to lead the next phase.