Clubhouse: Mental Health in the South Bronx

A clubhouse in the South Bronx eases troubled minds.

In New York City, hundreds of thousands of people live off of disability checks. Not working may sound like an easy lifestyle, but if you have no place to be and only enough money to eat and pay rent, what do you do to fill up your day? Read? Sleep? Stay home and watch TV?

What if being alone with your thoughts is the reason you’re on disability in the first place?

For the mentally ill, staying home alone all day can be frightening. Sometimes, you just need a place to go. For a few dozen mentally ill New Yorkers, Geel Clubhouse in the Melrose neighborhood of the South Bronx is that place.

The people who spend time at Geel are not “patients” or “clients,” who must be there, as in traditional day treatment programs. They are “members” who choose to go. Members socialize and eat a free lunch, but they also volunteer to work at tasks that maintain the clubhouse, like cleaning, cooking, and clerical work. An emphasis is placed on work as a form of rehabilitation, and the Clubhouse sponsors “transitional employment” jobs to help members ease back into the workforce.

There are Clubhouses all over the world. According to The International Center for Clubhouse Development (ICCD), these rights of membership are at the core of the Clubhouse Model:

1) A right to a place to come
2) A right to meaningful relationships
3) A right to meaningful work
4) A right to a place to return

Read more about Clubhouses here:
iccd.org/about_mentalillness.html

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Links:

Geel Community Service's Clubhouse
geelcommunityservices.org/Clubhouse.asp

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
nyc.gov/html/doh/html/home/home.shtml

Multimedia Piece on Mental Illness in Prison:
kobreguide.com/content/Trapped_Mental_Illness_in_Americas_Prisons

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Transcript

Members: Hello. Hi there. Hey.

Dorothy: I'm the type of person can;t sit in the house all day.

Michael: I was a teacher.

Keith: I always wanted to be a sports journalist.

Carol: I'm a veteran of the United States Army.

Patricia: I'm a person that struggles with mental illness.

Shawn: Mental illness.

Keisha: Mental illness.

Dorothy: Mental illness.

Patricia: And this is my clubhouse.

Member: Lunch has begun on the second floor. Please come upstairs.

Carol: As you know the Yankess, they have a clubhouse. But with us it's different.

Virgil: What's the clubhouse...oh, let me see.

Shawn: Um, wow. Um.

Larry: It's more or less somewhere to go. It's an opportunity to be a part of something that's more than myself.

Michael: This clubhouse is for people living with mental illness who have come back from homelessness. I was diagnosed back in 1997 with bipolar disorder. In 2003 there was a fire in my building. I ended up in a psych ward for three months. And i came here, the director was wonderful and so welcoming. He said "what are your skills?" And I said well, I speak Spanish. He said , "hey, would you be interested in reaching a beginner's Spanish class?" In this actual room they would hold my binder of materials, and we'd just teach, I would teach, and we'd have Spanish class. We put up the President. When President Obama got elected we put up his picture there. And it's kind of like a little one-room schoolhouse. I love this room.

Patricia: When you're dealing with mental illness, it's a struggle. And you need a place to go. A place where you can feel safe. A place where you have your dignity. It's the clubhouse.

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Behind-the-scenes:

The thing that struck me most when interviewing clubhouse members was what a big part of their lives coming to the clubhouse for a few hours a week actually is. On the surface, what a person does at the clubhouse might not seem like a lot: they could drop by, volunteer to vacuum or take out the trash, sit for a while and drink some coffee, then be on their way. But lots of clubhouse members had been dropping by two, three, four times a week for six, eight, and even fifteen years.

Having a non-judgmental place to go and contribute to really seemed to change these people’s lives for the better. Over and over they told me that coming to the clubhouse eased their minds.

I asked members to choose one word to describe what the Clubhouse has done for them. There are some of those words:

Opportunity
Self-Respect
Friendship
Growth
Goals
Achievement
Dignity
Hope
Stability
Loyalty
Strength
A Foundation
My World

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j vimeo.com/22978530

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