There’s Magic in Believing

Writer Tara Bassett hosted 100 personal guests at the Bridgehaven Breakfast at Mellwood Arts Center on November 29.

By Tara Bassett

Christmas morning dawns, and the lights go on at Bridgehaven Mental Health Services. Magical beings in red and green attire flit around the kitchen, preparing a delicious hot meal for the arriving guests. All carry the hope that St. Nick is on his way!

One in four people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Fewer than half of those 200,000 in our community will receive treatment. This unique agency provides “person-centered” psychiatric rehabilitation and recovery services to those touched by mental illness; members are closely involved in their own treatment plan. Bridgehaven has become the go-to referral destination for psychiatrists, therapists, public defenders and homeless advocates, among others.

The tables are set with flowers and candles, cheery holiday tunes resound, and members engage in traditions others take for granted. The anticipation is palpable.

Over 500 people each year come through the doors, broken and helpless. In a few days, they’ve made new friends and are engaging in groups, beginning their recovery. A grant from the Humana Foundation has formed The Humana Bridges to Health Clinic and Wellness program, which helps members adopt healthier lifestyles, including fitness activities at the YMCA.

Derby to Halloween, celebrations abound at Bridgehaven, but all holidays require observation of potential “triggers” which can cause setbacks. Bridgehaven staff “elves” circulate, offering encouragement to all.

“People with mental illness are ignored and Bridgehaven is their best hope,” says financial advisor and Board Chair Wes Gersh. “Bridgehaven has a record of unparalleled success in helping its members have meaningful lives.”

And here is the guest of honor, resplendent in white and red! Santa belly-laughs his way into the smiling crowd, distributing Kroger cards and more to every celebrant. Some stand to hug him, others shed a tear at their memories and make new ones now.

“I worry about the looming decreases in Medicaid funding and the increasing number of people falling below the poverty line – with limited access to mental health services,” asserts President and CEO Ramona Johnson, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse with forty years of experience in psychiatric medicine. “I worry about the fact that the suicide rate in Jefferson County is higher than the homicide rate.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness.

Ellen D. has much to smile about. She was lost in the underbelly of Las Vegas for seven years, mentally ill and without resources, and endured over 30 hospitalizations. The writings of Thomas Merton drew Ellen to Kentucky, then to Bridgehaven, around which her life is now structured.

“Our therapies work,” explains Clinical Manager Arti Ortega, a Bridgehaven veteran of 33 years whose door is rarely closed. “Cognitive Enhancement Therapy literally rewires a brain damaged by mental illness or trauma. Our year-long program gives members tools to improve socialization, repair broken relationships and enhance their ability to seek meaningful employment, volunteer, get their GED’s.”

“Bridgehaven and CET gave me my life back,” Ellen maintains, “and helped reunite me with my wonderful relatives in Texas, but these people are my family of choice. When I had major surgery, it was my Bridgehaven brothers and sisters who helped me heal. I hate to think of where I’d be without it.”

If you or a loved one need help with a mental health issue, go to bridgehaven.org or call 502.585.9444 to speak to David Sisk. Complimentary monthly awareness luncheons are held on the second Wednesday, from 12 to 1 p.m. Dan at dmetcalf@bridgehaven.org will happily make your January 10 reservation. VT