October 20, 2014

High rates of homelessness and the revolving door of jails for many who live with serious mental illness are challenges many communities face. Nearly 25 percent have mental illness and an even higher percentage have substance abuse disorders. The Twin Towers Jail, part of the Los Angeles County jail system, is the world's largest jail, and the nation's largest mental health treatment facility.

Recognizing that the lack of continuity of care was a huge barrier to helping those in most need, MHA Village (“the Village”) stepped to the plate in 1990 to offer a solution. This nationally-recognized program helps close the gap and encourage the reality of recovery through an approach that aims to provide consistent treatment. Key components of the program include:

  • Focusing services on those who need them most, including those who access emergency rooms, inpatient treatment for psychosis, have not responded to traditional service systems and who often cycle in and out of jails.
  • Providing coordinated care, housing and employment assistance, rehab support and other services.
  • Connecting with three businesses that are staffed by members of the Village to increase competence and confidence.

The Village is one of four exemplary programs heralded by Connect4MentalHealth, a partnership that aims to promote innovative community solutions to our national mental health crisis. The Village is especially recognized for the success in providing integrated health care for those who live with serious mental illness.

Once homeless and struggling with drug addiction, Chrystal Arzola came to the program because she was “tired of being tired.” Encouraged by her sister, her first experience with the program was group housing which provided her a sober living environment and jumpstarted her recovery journey.

”I came in angry, not able to get along with anyone. I wasn’t even aware of how I was part of the problem—living on the streets like I had been doing before I came to the Village, I became defensive, angry and ready to fight,” said Chrystal.

The staff at the Village and the integrated program helped Chrystal learn how to control her anger. “They would hear me out. They really listened and did not push me. They understood, and through that, I began to understand, too,” Chrystal shared. “Now I know how to cope better, how to communicate. I have a job [as a staff member at the program facility], I am healthier and I go to church with my sister.”

The Village aims to build a community by focusing intensely on each individual person. By providing coordinated care, including integrating mental and physical health needs, peer support, connections with the larger community, the Village helps each person gain independence and achieve wellness and meaning.

Happier and healthier, Chrystal serves as a mentor to others at the program. “Now, I have my family back. The Village helped me learn how to better myself. I can actually say that now, I am happy. All doors are open now.”

Together with the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council) and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck, NAMI affirms the need for localized, innovative, effective and sustainable approaches to address serious mental illness. Through Connect 4 Mental Health(C4MH),a nationwide initiative, we have joined together to call for communities to prioritize serious mental illness and encourage promising practices that help people, like Chrystal, live healthier, fuller lives.

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