by Charlene Sunkel (Founder/ CEO of the Global Mental Health Peer Network)
I was fortunate to have been able to visit Fountain House New York City on 19 March 2019 during my business trip to the city. I have been fairly familiar with the Fountain House model and met some amazing people from Fountain House model programs during my international business trips, but never visited one, so I was in my element when the opportunity finally came about.
The moment I walked into the door, I felt welcomed and was met with friendly faces who were polite and eager to tell me all about Fountain House. I immediately realised that it didn't feel like I was at a "mental health centre", but rather an ordinary place where community members work, engage with each other and build a life for themselves. Even from the outside, there was no way of telling that this was a centre or organisation that dealt with mental health.
That sense of being part of a community is what struck me - community inclusion and being accepted within a community on an equal basis as others is something we all aspire to as persons with lived experience with a mental health condition or psychosocial disability, yet in some countries it is still a distant dream to come true. I was inspired by the Fountain House members who shared their recovery stories with me and found it remarkable what they have achieved through the approaches of the Fountain House model.
Most impressive was the relationships between staff and members - a friendship, mutual respect and equally valued. What was very interesting to see was how physical health was incorporated – not only physical exercise but encouraging healthy diets – this is something lacking in most mental health services or programs that I have come in contact with, yet research has noted that persons with serious mental illness often die around 20 years prematurely due to undetected and preventable physical health conditions.
The Fountain House model essentially is all about empowerment and community inclusion - 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. I hope that somehow the Fountain House model could be replicated, especially in low-and-middle income countries, who really would benefit greatly from the results.
Thank you Fountain House for making my visit the highlight of my day!
The Global Mental Health Peer Network (GMHPN) is a global mental health care user organisation that functions as an entity of its own and that strives to ensure that the “voices” of persons with lived experience, wherever in the world, have the platform to share their experiences, views, opinions and perspectives in a well-established and sustainable structure, that promotes human rights, empowerment, recovery and peer support – where lived experience is the driving force behind NO stigma, QUALITY of life, EQUALITY and EQUITY.
Learn more at: https://www.gmhpn.org/