Hardly a family in America has been untouched by mental illness. As many as one-third of American adults will suffer a diagnosable mental disorder some time in their life, and twenty percent have a mental disorder at any given time.
-Reducing Risks for Mental Illness, Patricia J. Mrazek and Robert J. Haggerty (1994).
In 1951, representatives for the American Association of University Women, Council for the Coordination of Community Services, Junior League, League of Women Voters, PTA and the Council of Jewish Women met at the Whitley Hotel and formed a society for the promotion of mental health, which became one of the first nonprofits in Alabama. Its Board met at the Carnegie Library (now used as a City of Montgomery office) until it had its first permanent home at 731 King Street in 1953. At that time, the Society had a membership of 91 members and an annual budget of $2,620. Memberships were available for $1.00 per year. Mrs. Oscar Tate (Alice) was hired as the first executive director on a part time basis.
In 1956, the Association moved to 500 South Hull Street and received its first United Way allocation in the amount of $12,000. In 1959, documents of incorporation were signed. After renting property for several years, the Association grew to a point where it was able to purchase an older house at 1116 South Hull Street. The Association then started a Capital Improvement Campaign program in 1973, completed renovations in 1974, and paid off the mortgage fully in April 1986.
While the Association felt from its inception that its primary responsibilities were in the areas of education, advocacy, and referrals, it has also been sensitive to the direct service needs of the community. The Association has been a driving force in the initiation of many new facilities. Once established, these were encouraged to stand on their own or become part of a direct service facility. Examples of organizations advocated for by MHA-M are:
With the growth of mental illness and its awareness, the Association recognized that community support services are vital to people recovering from mental illness and to their success in community living. This interest in direct services then sparked the formation of two clubs, the Open Door Club and the Friendship Club. In 1964, the Association started the Open Door Club, a social rehabilitation nighttime program. This program provided citizens with mental illness who were reentering the community from state hospitals with an opportunity to develop their social and community living skills. The Friendship Club started with a small handful of members and has since grown into a daytime program providing provides education, skills development, and socialization. As of now, these two programs currently serve around 30 individuals.
To this day, our staff continues to provide psychosocial programs and activities designed for socializing and fun and to meet these members’ needs for learning basic life skills and to support the value of art as a therapeutic tool. Members have also felt the joy of gardening--planting seeds in the ground, tending them, watching them grow into plants, and finally picking and cooking them, and sitting down to a table laden with the fruits of their labor. These are only a few of the many activities and programs provided by MHA in Montgomery in our efforts to provide opportunities for mental health recovery and wellness.
Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness.
-Inscription on Mental Health Bell
Not too long ago, people with mental illness in our country were literally locked up in chains. Mental Health America (MHA) put a stop to this cruel practice when we melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into what is now the symbol of MHA: the Mental Health Bell.
Today, the Mental Health Bell rings out in hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses. But there is still much work to be done to break the “invisible” chains of ignorance, fear, and neglect that surround mental health issues.
To that end, MHA is working hard, every single day, to overcome the silent stigma surrounding mental illnesses and shorten the gap between the first signs of mental health problems and getting help—well before the Stage 4 crisis point.
~Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America
Mental Health America in Montgomery
1116 South Hull Street, Montgomery, Alabama 36104, United States
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