May 5, 2021

What is a Mental Health Clubhouse?

Liz Gulachenski, Director of Programs & Services
Liz Gulachenski, Director of Programs & Services

What is a Mental Health Clubhouse?

A Mental Health Clubhouse is a free, community-based membership organization aimed at helping people living with serious mental illness around the world regain a respected place in society through work, education, wellness and community.

There is currently a mental health crisis. According to NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year with 1 in 20 experiencing serious mental illness each year. Clubhouses are designed to give those affected by mental illness a safe place to go. During the course of their participation in a Clubhouse, members gain access to opportunities to rejoin the worlds of friendships, family, employment and education, and connect to the services and support they need. Clubhouses are built upon the belief that every member has the potential to sufficiently recover from the effects of mental illness to lead a personally satisfying life as  an integrated member of society. Clubhouses are communities of people who are dedicated to one another’s success, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it is.

Why Are Mental Health Clubhouses Important?

Clubhouses are a powerful demonstration of the fact that people with mental illness can and do lead normal, productive lives. At Employment Options, our Clubhouse environment and structures are developed in a way to ensure that there is ample opportunity for human interaction and that there is more than enough work to do.

Clubhouse staffing levels are purposefully kept low to create a perpetual need for the involvement of the members in order to accomplish work necessary to keep the club running. The relationships that evolve through this work together are the key ingredient in Clubhouse success.

Relationships between members and staff develop naturally as they work together side by side carrying out the daily duties of the Clubhouse. Working closely together each day, members and staff learn of each others’ strengths, talents and abilities. They also develop real and lasting  friendships. Because the design of a Clubhouse is much like a typical work or business environment, relationships develop in much the same way.

The role of the staff in a Clubhouse is not to educate or treat the members. The staff are there to engage with members as colleagues in important work and to be encouraging and engaging with people who might not yet believe in themselves. Clubhouse staff are charged with being colleagues, workers, talent scouts and cheerleaders.

Clubhouse member fixes on furniture at Employment Options clubhouse in Marlborough, MA

Clubhouses Provide:

  • a work-ordered day in which the talents and abilities of members are recognized and utilized within the Clubhouse;
  • participation in consensus-based decision-making regarding all important matters re lating to the running of the Clubhouse;
  • opportunities to obtain paid employment in the local labor market through a Club- house-created Transitional Employment Program. In addition, members participate in Clubhouse-supported and Independent programs;
  • assistance in accessing community-based educational resources;
  • access to crisis intervention services when needed;
  • evening/weekend social and recreational events; and
  • assistance in securing and sustaining safe, decent and affordable housing.

Mental Health Clubhouse Effectiveness

Success factors:

Members are trained for a variety of entry and mid level jobs including office work, food service, customer service, retail services and the soft skills needed in this labor market. The Workforce development staff at Employment Options works hard to train our members for their next job and retain their position. Ongoing support continues beyond one’s placement through a weekly forum for members, where everyone shares tips and advises each other, networking and supporting those who are yet to be employed.

Employment OPTIONS works with employers to: 

  • Develop productive workers
  • Navigate pathways to success through training, support, and education
  • Remove the barriers for employment and career advancement through support services
mployment Options Clubhouse member cooks at his new job in 								the food service industry.
Employment Options Clubhouse member cooks at his new job in the food service industry.

How to Navigate the Mental Health System

There are many resources that are helpful when trying to navigate the mental health system. Below are a list of some key agencies in Massachusetts to help you.

The Hope Series, Episode 2: Shannon Leary, Executive Director of Employment Options, spoke with Brooke Doyle, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.  Commissioner Doyle shared new state reforms and initiatives that support adults and young adults with mental health conditions, such as "The Wellness Safari", a new partnership with Franklin Park Zoo. Commissioner Doyle is most excited about Massachusetts’ two peer-to-peer access centers, which have shifted during the pandemic to bring individuals a virtual support hub.

The Massachusetts Clubhouse Coalition (MCC) is a non-profit organization committed to helping people with long term mental illness find and secure employment, housing, education, services and support in the community. MCC membership includes over 15,000 MA residents who have mental illness and the 20+ quality accredited recovery and rehabilitation centers called “Clubhouses” that help sustain them. 

The Department of Mental Health, as the State Mental Health Authority, assures and provides access to services and supports to meet the mental health needs of individuals of all ages, enabling them to live, work and participate in their communities. The Department establishes standards to en- sure effective and culturally competent care to promote recovery. The Department sets policy, pro- motes self-determination, protects human rights and supports mental health training and research. This critical mission is accomplished by working in partnership with other state agencies, individuals, families, providers and communities. 

Clubhouse International helps start and grow Clubhouses globally, where people with men- tal illness can go to get their lives back. Their vision is that there will one day be Clubhouses in the cities and towns of every country in the world. They hope that all people with mental illness will have access to the support of a Clubhouse, which can provide them with the encouragement and assistance they need to lead successful lives, and be fully engaged in society. 

NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts. Membership is comprised of individuals living with mental illness, family members and other caregivers, friends, mental health professionals and others who care about people with mental illness across the Commonwealth. 

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