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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette The Carriage House, on Lake Avenue, has recently installed an elevator so that mobility challenged clients can access the upper and lower levels.

Monday, October 09, 2017 1:00 am

Joining the clubhouse

Fort Wayne statehouse model for mental health treatment

Guy Anthony Bayes

Mental Illness remains the No. 1 medical health problem in America. The good news is that during the past 20 years, Indiana has made major strides in treating mental illness.

One major advance has been with the clubhouse model. This model is unique and even more desperately needed today. It is a psycho-social rehabilitation center where members improve their diagnoses through genuine work experience and meaningful friendships. Some of our members have been in either jail or prison, largely as a result of their mental illness.

Beginning with six active members when The Fort Wayne Carriage House was founded in 1997 by Fort Wayne NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in partnership with Park Center, the Carriage House now serves an average of 71 members daily. Over the course of a year, about 500 members make one or more visits to stay in touch. Membership and participation are voluntary. Carriage House has more than 2,000 members and is considered one of the best certified clubhouses in the country. Much of the credit for its marked success is thanks to current Director Andy Wilson and Assistant Director Tom Weir.

I was a founding member of Carriage House, with three severe mental illnesses: obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety disorder. I am a cum laude graduate of Duke University. Later, I graduated from Yale Law School. While at Yale I was selected as one of nine semifinalists in the Yale Moot Court Brief Writing Contest.

I believe strongly it is my responsibility to manage my mental illnesses. Through the years, as both a member and board member of Carriage House, I have survived and, on quite a few occasions, thrived. The Carriage House has been my opportunity to take the bad stuff and turn it around and make good come out of it. It is impossible for me to describe adequately the horrible torment these illnesses have caused me. The obsessive-compulsive disorder began when I was an innocent child of 8. The depression and anxiety disorders were full-blown during my college years, at 18 or19 years old. I honestly believe that without the crucial support of my faith in Christ, clubhouse experience, NAMI, family and friends, and my therapist, I would have committed suicide years ago.

Clubhouse staff truly care for the members who attend, working side by side with them, even doing the same work as a member. Staff members work hard to find part-time, even full-time jobs in the community for members who want to work. The clubhouse is a proven effective, cost-efficient instrument for helping those battling mental illness develop marked improvement in their self-esteem, and social and job skills. The atmosphere of the clubhouse is not that of a hospital, but rather a working family.

Instead of becoming homeless, many of our members become taxpayers who take college courses and learn computer skills with clubhouse assistance. Our Carriage House has made tremendous strides in starting new clubhouses and training. New clubhouses send their members and staff to us to learn how a true, certified clubhouse should operate and improve. From being the only certified clubhouse in Indiana just a few short years ago, we have helped start five additional certified clubhouses in Indiana (two in Indianapolis and one each in Kendallville, Goshen and South Bend). Three other clubhouse programs are working toward certification with a target date of two years from now.

Our clubhouse faced a serious financial challenge some years ago, but emerged victorious in 2016. Indiana adopted a new Medicaid billing code, which helps to fund certified clubhouses. A prior code was removed from Indiana's Medicaid plan in 2006 by the Division of Mental Health and Addictions. With this new billing code in 2016, Carriage House is in a sound financial position.

Even with these wonderful advances, mental illness crises still face us. About one in five adults in the U.S. (43.8 million or 18.5 percent) experiences mental illness. One in five youths aged 13-18 (21.4 percent) experience a severe mental disorder. For children ages 8 to 15, NAMI's estimate is 13 percent experience mental illness, and of the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experience a substance-use disorder, 50.5 percent have a co-occurring mental illness.

We cannot abandon these millions of Americans. Psychiatric wards in hospitals need many more employees. The current situation of the Allen County Jail being the largest psychiatric care facility in Allen County must change. Through education and prayer, we must continue to destroy the ages-long stigma against the mentally ill when their illness is a no-fault disorder of the brain, just as much as cancer, diabetes and heart disease are no-fault illnesses.

Have hope! There is improvement! There is change. God willing, we will all take up the banner of respect and provide those living with mental illness with the medications, the intensive care and other facilities, the employees and the clubhouses they so desperately need to survive and get back their lives.


Guy Anthony Bayes, a minister and retired attorney, is a Fort Wayne resident.