Working Together, Families And Young Advocate With Mental Illness Opened A Clubhouse That Is Rebuilding Lives

(3-6-20) I’m a big fan of Clubhouses, especially Fountain House in New York City, which is the granddaddy of them all. So I am thrilled to be speaking in Miami this weekend at a fundraiser for The Key Clubhouse of South Florida.

It was founded in 2008 by a grassroots group of family members and a young person with lived experience who wanted to provide a warm and safe place for individuals with mental illnesses where they could get help reintegrating into the community. This is what I like best about Clubhouses – nearly all are created by local advocates who are determined to help others and they are run by persons with lived experience!

It took two years to raise enough money to open the doors to its first Clubhouse in downtown Miami for 10 members. Word quickly spread and by 2013, the Clubhouse had moved into a larger building that included a culinary unit and dining room. The goal of Sunday’s event is to raise funds for an even larger facility to serve more members.

The folks at Key Clubhouse have done a fabulous job in designing useful programs. They offer an accredited “recovery through work” program that helps those who are able improve their lives through meaningful employment. They offer pre-employment skills building, a wellness program, social activities, assistance accessing medical services and housing and daily, personal counseling.

If your community doesn’t have a Clubhouse, it should!

Christine Dimattei, a reporter for WLRN radio in Miami, the local NPR affiliate, did a four minute interview with me, during which I quickly described how Miami has transformed itself from the hellhole that I describe in my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, into a model system that is being emulated across the country.

Mental Health ‘Clubhouses’ Emerging As Safe Havens For People With Serious Mental Illnesses

Right now, concerns over the spread of the coronavirus are dominating the news. But in recent years, lawmakers in Florida — and nationwide — have increasingly focused on mental health and its impact on overall health.

According to federal health officials, one in four American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. And it’s not uncommon for a person with a serious mental illness who acts out in public to get a jail sentence instead of treatment.

That’s what happened to former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley’s son Kevin, who suffered a manic episode during his senior year of college.

“My son was arrested because he broke into a stranger’s house. Luckily, no one was there. He broke in to take a bubble bath,” says Earley.

After Kevin’s arrest, Earley researched how the criminal justice system deals with mentally ill people — a story told in his 2007 book “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness.”

His journey took him from his home in Fairfax County, Virginia to Miami-Dade County’s main jail, after attempts to visit other cities’ jail systems fell flat.

“I had tried L.A. and lasted two days before they threw me out of the jail, claiming I was violating HIPAA,” says Earley “I tried Chicago. They said ‘No.’ Rikers Island said ‘No.’ Baltimore said ‘No.’ And Washington — they said, ‘Hell, no’.”

Earley went to Miami at the invitation of Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman, who would go on to create the county’s Criminal Mental Health Project, a program designed to divert people with serious mental illnesses away from jail and into community-based treatment and support services.

Pete Earley is coming back to South Florida this weekend for a fundraiser to benefit the Key Clubhouse of South Florida. The ‘clubhouse’ model has been steadily gaining popularity worldwide as an alternative to conventional treatments for severely mentally ill people; it offers a path to recovery called “psychosocial rehabilitation.”

“It offers people who feel alone — who feel that no one understands them — a social connection,” says Earley. “It helps them get jobs. It helps them learn skills. It can provide all the services that someone needs to get that step up to help them become productive members of society.”

If you have a Clubhouse in your community, please share its story on my Facebook page, especially how you were able to launch it and keep it funded. Your story might help those without Clubhouses.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.