Seattle's New Mental Health Clubhouse

"What is a Mental Health Clubhouse?", you might ask. Well, in partnership with Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, Operation Nightwatch, HERO House and countless others in the Downtown core- a space has opened up for folks with mental health issues can spend quality time and build community. From their website:

A Clubhouse is a membership-based social/vocational community where people living with persistent mental illness come to rebuild their lives. Participants – who are called members, not patients – share ownership and responsibility for the success of the organization. They work and socialize in a unique partnership with a small staff, building on strengths instead of focusing on illness. The Clubhouse provides a safe and accepting place to spend the day, valuable work to perform within the organization, opportunities to socialize with friends and co-workers, and access to employment within the wider community. This community-based approach complements available psychiatric treatment and other social services.

This post was written by Gretchen Hawkins- documenting the opening day:

This month marked the much anticipated soft launch of the Seattle Clubhouse. Thanks to the generous support of Operation Nightwatch, we are temporarily meeting once a week at their beautiful facility.

On opening day, Larry Clum, Ryan Likes, and myself prepared for the arrival of our first Seattle Clubhouse members. Among other things, Larry put together the agenda for the day and saw to the many details that go into creating a meaningful Clubhouse experience. Ryan set out to gather and transport our charter members, Terrence and Jean to the Clubhouse. I acquainted myself with Operation Nighwatch’s impressive kitchen, and whipped up some poppy seed bread. Upon their arrival, Terrence and Jean were welcomed with open arms. Soft music set the tone. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked bread, filled the air. The two were invited to sit down at tables draped with cheerful tablecloths, adorned with brightly colored fresh-cut flowers. We were off to a great start!

We gathered together to assign tasks for the work-ordered day. The work-ordered day is the hallmark of the International Clubhouse Model. This was where the magic begins! Jean who suffers from severe schizophrenia lives an isolated life. Before her diagnosis, she was a librarian. Now, she spends her days wandering the streets panhandling, or alone in her room. When we visit her, usually over a game of scrabble, she often shares that she wishes she had friends, and something to do with her time.

Jean became excited when we invited her to join us at Seattle Clubhouse. We shared with her that Clubhouse is a place to find meaningful work and community. Sure enough, in no time, Jean found herself working at the computer with Ryan, on an attendance spreadsheet. She and Ryan also worked on our website, uploading lots of fun pictures, to document our day. I saw a spark of joy in Jean’s eyes, when I asked her if she had recorded the attendance. She answered with a resounding, “yes!”

One of my favorite moments was when Terrence observed that the day brought a good change in Jean. Jean easily loses interest in activities. We thought she might not want to stay at the Clubhouse for the full day, but she did! It was wonderful to see her engage with her tasks, and socialize with others. As she was leaving, she said that she had had a fun time and would be back next week.

Terrence suffers from depression. He copes by keeping a daily routine of going downtown to panhandle. Terrence has become a fixture in the downtown area, and is well known by many. Yet, he still he experiences loneliness. For thirty years, Terrence was a cook. We were all eager to see if he would be willing to help out with the preparation of the daily meal. He was a bit reluctant, but it didn’t take him long to spot his favorite ingredient, Johnny’s Seasoning Salt, in the pantry, along with a knife which he quickly put to use dicing onions. With pride and joy, Terrence lent his culinary skills to help create a delicious lunch of spaghetti, pan fried garlic bread and salad, that was enjoyed by all. The pleasure and satisfaction Terrence got out of working with others in the kitchen shone all over his face! In fact, as he entered the van to go home, he turned around, and asked me to be sure and call him, so that we could plan the menu for the next Clubhouse meal!

Larry often says, “The most devastating effect of mental illness is the separation from others in society.” The thing that stood out most to me about working side by side with Seattle Clubhouse members, was the way we all effortlessly came together to form a community. We each had a task to do that gave us a sense of belonging and purpose. There was something healing about sharing space in a welcoming and encouraging environment, that focuses on what an individual’s strengths can bring to the group. Seattle Clubhouse’s first day was truly a celebration of community, hope, and belonging. Recovery is happening at the Seattle Clubhouse!

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