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Buckelew helps patients cope with mental illness

December 23, 2012 7:27 pm Hilary Zunin 

When most people hear that a loved one or friend has been diagnosed with major illness like cancer or heart disease, they are likely to offer a compassionate response. They listen attentively, may have questions, share experiences, give a hug.

But when that medical diagnosis is one of a mental illness, the response is often less warm. A friend once told me that she could almost see her neighbor shrink away as she told him that her husband had been diagnosed with a major depression. She remembered it distinctly, “It was as if the air between us got colder.”

Mental illness, for many, still carries the stigma of centuries of misunderstanding. We fear the loss of control, the loss of a sense of self, the alienation that mental illness too often brings. We understand poorly the relationship of mental illness to behavioral changes, including, for a minority of patients, a propensity for violence. One positive consequence of the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is that improving ways to help support the mentally ill is part of the national conversation right this minute.

How do we best support those facing the physical, mental, emotional and social challenges of mental illness? In Napa, it may be through Buckelew Programs.

“Buckelew Programs is the largest provider of mental health services in Northern California,” Program Director Chuck Mottern said. “Service recipients are offered a wide range of programming aimed at helping individuals overcome the challenges and barriers to living a full and productive life while experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.”

What is your purpose or mission? 

“Providing safe, affordable housing is a basic human need that is at the heart of Buckelew Programs’ mission. These programs ‘enhance the quality of life of individuals and families in our community by providing mental health and addiction services that promote recovery, resilience and hope.’ Program staff supports the individual’s efforts to achieve significant personal milestones in their recovery process.”

In brief, what’s the history of your organization? 

“Since 1971, Buckelew Programs, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, has offered supportive housing and case management services to adults who experience severe and persistent mental illness. Beginning in Marin County, over the years Buckelew Programs has expanded its housing and case management services to include programs in Napa County in 1994 and Sonoma County in 1999.

“In more recent years, mergers and acquisitions have brought the Helen Vine Detoxification Center and Family Services of Marin County under the Buckelew Programs banner. The addition of these organizations has allowed the program to address co-occurring substance abuse issues and mental illness, which are commonly found among the target population of service recipients.”

Who are the people you serve? 

“Clients who participate in Buckelew Programs services receive a range of support aimed at helping them to increase independence through strategies that promote wellness and recovery from mental illness. For example, housing services offer ‘in-vivo’ learning opportunities and assist individuals in learning skills to maintain housing.”

How are clients helped by the work you do? 

“Along with housing services, programs now include a greater emphasis on supportive employment and job training services through Buckelew Employment Services. Employment services include Blue Skies Coffee & Teas, which are coffee shop–type job training venues at locations in Marin and Napa counties, as well as Blue Skies Janitorial Services in Marin County. Trainees receive on-the-job training aimed at teaching soft skills and positive work habits.

“Once training is complete, subsequent job placement and job coaching services are available through an employment specialist who further assists individuals in their efforts to maintain employment.”

What’s a current need or upcoming project? 

“Currently, Buckelew Programs in Napa is developing and seeking funding for a financial management education program that will benefit our clients by assisting them to learn skills and overcome the challenges of living in Napa on a small income. Training in rudimentary skills can significantly improve the quality of life and health for individuals who experience a mental illness and face the challenges of living in the community with a small income.

“Other program efforts aim to help individuals to learn skills associated with the challenges of living independently in apartments and maintaining employment. Such programs help our clients to live more meaningful and fulfilling lives as good neighbors, employees, friends, and ultimately as good community members.”