May 19, 2016
We speak a lot about the stigma associated with mental illness, about the pain of unnecessary fear and loathing directed to people who live with diagnoses. We’re dedicated to ending that negative perception by supporting education and organizations that lend that much-needed helping hand to those diagnosed who so desperately need it. In this spotlight on the newest round of Hope and Grace Fund grant recipients, we’re proud to shine a light on an organization that does just that: Clubhouse International.
We had a chance to speak with Joel Corcoran, Executive Director and the worldwide authority on the Clubhouses and psycho social rehabilitation, on the healing power that emanates from these collective brick and mortar structures:
“Clubhouse International is an organization dedicated to ending social and economic exclusion for people living with mental illness. The way we do that is by promoting, supporting, and helping to develop a community program called Clubhouse, which is basically a resource center in a given city, town, or location where people with serious mental illness can become members and get the kind of support necessary to live successfully in the community. Most folks living with mental illness struggle with feeling isolated from the rest of the world because of their illness, so the Clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation creates a community where people with mental illness are welcomed, needed, and wanted every day. The organizing factor is the concept of membership in a club, much like a university club or a men’s, women’s, or social service club: the people who join do so voluntarily, and they make the club come alive. The daily work of a club are things necessary to help the membership regain control over their lives in spite of their illness and reclaim their futures by pursuing and achieving goals for success like education, employment, building a social network, getting the health and other social services they need, and building an interactive relationship with other people and the community in which they live.
There are about 340 Clubhouses in 34 countries. Most of the people in Clubhouses in the world are part of the mental health and social service system, so referrals come from all (sorts of) sources. In the United States, it’s most typically from psychiatrists, social workers, residential programs, and a significant number of self-referrals. People hear word of mouth from folks who know about the clubhouse: people in the social services system, those with mental illness themselves, people involved and supporting either philanthropically or just philosophically.
It’s not a residential program, however about half of the clubhouses in the United States provide residential support and services to our members. People living with mental illness are often living at/or almost entirely living below the poverty line. Therefore, people who get involved with Clubhouses almost always need help with some kind of support for housing. Some Clubhouses will actually run supported apartment houses or group settings, or sometimes a Clubhouse just gets involved with helping their members get engaged and be successful in other residential opportunities in the community. Sometimes those are other mental health programs, sometimes just integrated housing and apartments or whatever happens to be available in the community. If a member comes in and they’re having any kind of concerns or issues associated with housing, part of the work is to help that member find, keep, and improve their housing as needed.
Clubhouse International is itself a membership organization. We don’t run all of the Clubhouses in the world: they belong to our organization. We’re sort of an association of Clubhouses: we do the training, information dissemination, a lot of advocacy, and act as the forma accrediting body to make sure that public and private funds in the Clubhouse name are providing the kind of opportunities we’re talking about to members so we hold ourselves accountable to higher standards. Training and all of the programs are coordinated through what we call our Training Center Group. Our training program is a consistent program delivered the same in New York City as it is in Salt Lake City, Seoul, Helsinki, or Brisbane.
One of the unique characteristics of the Clubhouse model and community is that absolutely everything we do involves heavy reliance on the talents, strengths, skills, and energy of people living with mental illness, the members of clubhouses. The training programs, all the work that’s done in the Clubhouses every day, the accreditation program I mentioned, as well as support for members working in community businesses or going to school — that’s all delivered by members and staff working together. A Clubhouse has an intentionally small staff, so in order to accomplish the work each day, the members are actually needed. That kind of work relationship is what is so restorative about Clubhouses. People who live with mental illness have had their lives so disrupted by the awful circumstances associated with the diseases that they often no longer feel welcomed anywhere or feel comfortable anywhere. So the idea behind a Clubhouse is to engage people in a community who understand what they’ve gone through and are there to support and ask them to participate as a full, welcomed member of that community. That’s what’s so different between a Clubhouse and other social services or mental health service programs: the members are involved in everything: decision making, training, hiring and firing of staff, managing the budget, planning, public advocacy, fundraising, and supporting all the programs of a Clubhouse during the day. They work on campus to support people as they start or finish their education, help members get to and from their employment sites and support them in their career success, etc. All these things are done by members and staff together. The staff is intentionally small, so the people that are there — the service recipients, if you will — are also the folks delivering a lot of the work and energy that makes the place come alive and succeed.
I’ve spoken about the fact that people with mental illness around the world suffer from being ostracized, misunderstood, outcast, and afraid. I want to speak now about the material change that can happen when people are acknowledged, respected and empowered when it comes to dealing with their lives. When you start focusing on these individuals as people, on their potential and all their current assets as opposed to focusing on their disability (which is sort of the modus operandi of a Clubhouse,) it is in fact a miraculous transformation. People begin to feel themselves, develop confidence in their ability to participate in typical day-to-day activities, and begin to rethink their goals and dreams. When you’re working side-by-side with someone who believes in you — maybe you’re making lunch at the Clubhouse, making outreach calls to your fellow members, visiting someone in the hospital — that’s real work, and it builds confidence. The transformation is dramatic: people go from feeling disconnected to feeling very connected and confident about going back to work. About 42% of the average daily attendance at Clubhouses are employed in community businesses for the prevailing wage. Many of those jobs are part-time, some are full time, but that employment rate compares to a national average of about 15% for people with mental illness. That’s huge.
Clubhouse is an evidence-based practice registered on the National Registry of Evidence-Based Practices and Programs (NREPP,) and there’s evidence that demonstrates a reduction in hospitalization, an improvement in quality of life, lots of success in the employment program, and help with recovery. People believe that they are getting better, and that’s a big part of getting better.
You may or may not know people living with mental illness tend to die anywhere from 10-to-20 years earlier than the average citizen depending on the report that you read, and we experience that reality in the Clubhouse network all the time. We are committed to changing that reality, committed to addressing the premature death of our members, people living with mental illness, and the issues that people with mental illness have in a disproportionate way relative to the general population. We’re so proud and happy to have been chosen as Hope and Grace Fund grant recipients, and those funds will be committed to learning about and addressing the issues affecting female members of Clubhouses in the United States associated with disproportionate access to quality healthcare and premature death. We want know from the women themselves and the people who are closest to them what the issues are that create the barriers for women to receive quality healthcare on par with the general population, and what can we do as a Clubhouse to address and resolve that premature mortality rate. We’re starting with a study that’s collecting all the research out there now, and we’re talking to women in Clubhouses across the United States to learn about this issue. We’re going to develop a rapport that will help us inform our training program so we better support each other in the Clubhouse community. We’re learning how to better support women with general healthcare issues, and we’re looking at an integration of mental health service and healthcare for women and our members.
If you’d like to get involved from a volunteer perspective or just to learn more about the Clubhouses, you can certainly learn more about us on our website, or simply call us at 212-582-0343. You can also visit a Clubhouse in your neighborhood.
Our vision is that Clubhouses and programs like them will be as commonplace in the community as places like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and senior centers. We think that every community has the responsibility or obligation to take care of their citizens living with a mental illness, and the Clubhouse model is both successful and cost-effective. In order to end the social and economic isolation, we’d like to see Clubhouses become commonplace like some of the other supports that communities provide.”
Source: Hope and Grace Initiative