Letter from the President & CEO
Well-Being: Our Focus, Our Promise
The science behind the treatment of people with mental illness continues to evolve. As research shines new light on the best ways to prevent, intervene in, and alleviate mental illness, we must also refresh our language, redesign our services, and open our doors wider to the broader community. The Mental Health Center of Denver is the leader, locally and nationally, in redefining mental health as a central focus of our whole community’s well-being.
“Well-being” is a nice, upbeat term, but what does it mean?
The concept of well-being comes from the field of positive psychology. PERMA is the acronym for five components of well-being:
Positive Emotions: Having feelings of gratitude, joy, hope, love and more
Engagement: Activities that absorb all your thought and energy in the moment
Relationships: Feeling connected positively to others—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers
Meaning: Sensing that your life has a higher purpose—that how you live your life matters to others
Achievement or Accomplishment: Satisfaction in setting goals and reaching them
Well-being is measurable at the personal level, within organizations, and also at the community level. If you have a friend whose well-being is good, it has a 15 percent positive influence on your well-being. Thriving businesses and organizations, including the Mental Health Center of Denver, make the well-being of our employees a top priority, in part because it benefits the people we serve.
Our focus on well-being is not a new direction. Rather, it builds on the solid foundation we’ve laid over our first quarter century and takes our work to a new level. In our early years, we served our clients from an illness management model. Our goal was to reduce symptoms. But we realized there’s more to life than an absence of symptoms. So we began focusing on recovery and resilience, gaining national recognition for how to measure recovery. Still, that meant your starting point was having something wrong in order to come through our door.
Not any more.
In 2015, we launched two new programs that expand our focus on well-being into different parts of our community. Emerson St.—literally a large Victorian mansion in Capitol Hill—invites young people age 14-26 to make connections in a comfortable, homelike setting. Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being is a beacon of social and educational opportunity in Northeast Park Hill where we’re working with residents to strengthen community well-being based on generations of neighborhood pride. Both programs offer a variety of services, but nobody needs a diagnosis to come through the door.
Well-being begins at home. Sometimes, people with behavioral health issues experience homelessness, which is why we continue to develop a variety of housing options for people we serve. Improving well-being takes effort, and having a secure place to live makes this effort possible.
The well-being of our whole community depends on promoting the well-being of everyone who lives here. Our promise to those we serve, and to the wider community, is to build on our expertise in recovery and resiliency, and to develop resources and partnerships that can help us all enjoy well-being to our fullest potential.
Northeast Park Hill is a proud neighborhood filled with strong people. Built in the 1950s, Dahlia Square at East 33rd Avenue and Dahlia was the largest African-American-owned shopping center in the U.S. with a thriving grocery store, roller-skating rink, bowling alley, and a full array of local businesses. But times changed, and gradually, the thriving neighborhood nucleus became an eyesore and was razed. It became a gaping hole in the neighborhood fabric.
Over the years, many groups from outside the community offered help. But plans fell apart and the vacant lot remained. When the Mental Health Center of Denver purchased the land several years ago, neighbors were wary. Maya Wheeler, an advocate for the African-American community, was one of them. “There were concerns and questions,” she said.
“Would there be local people hired to help build it? How would the preschool affect other preschools? Would the staff include minorities?” The biggest question was whether the new site would attract people with serious mental illnesses—and crime. Others were concerned that mostly white clinicians and social workers would come into their primarily African-American and Latino neighborhood to solve community problems with prescription drugs. “There were worries about overprescribing medications for children to calm them down, especially young males,” says Wheeler.
“We had to develop a different kind of service model,” says Lydia Prado, PhD, vice president of Child and Family Services at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “Anything that sounded institutional, or was like what we’ve always done, or with a focus on mental illness did not resonate.” Dr. Prado spent nearly three years meeting with community members and stakeholders listening to what they wanted and needed to help their community thrive. “Little by little, we got to know each other and crafted a vision together about what would make a difference.” Neighbors also helped give the new project a name: Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being.
Visitors to Dahlia Campus won’t see a traditional mental health clinic. People arrive for many different reasons—taking their kids to the dentist, enrolling a child in preschool, attending a parenting class, or learning how to grow a garden and prepare healthy meals. Social activities may feature gospel singing, recipe clubs, sewing and knitting circles, activities for grandparents raising grandchildren, and much more. “We will provide opportunities to learn something new, feel better, get connected, have questions aswered—all beyond traditional therapy groups—as well as the best treatment available,” says Dr. Prado.
Because it is not built on a traditional clinical model, Dahlia Campus may be the first and, for now, the only center of its kind in the nation. "Mental health treatment is built around a culture of expertise that is good at identifying what’s wrong with people, and less good at identifying what’s right,” says Dr. Prado. “Communities we think of as ‘disadvantaged’ have something to teach like grit, determination, perseverance and foresight.”
A former critic, Maya Wheeler is now one of Dahlia Campus’s enthusiastic champions. “Every time I went to them with a concern, they took my input to heart,” she says. “Dahlia Campus will build on community assets and make our community stronger and better.”
A Nucleus of Well-Being: Partnerships Strengthen Community
Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being may be the first and only community development project of its kind. Few in Northeast Park Hill would say that a mental health center was a top priority for neighborhood families and children. Higher on the list would be preschool, children’s dental care and a gathering place for social and educational activities. Topping that list of priorities would be food—fresh, wholesome food.
By listening to the community, Dr. Lydia Prado and her team in Child and Family Services responded by seeking out partnerships with commercial and nonprofit service providers. Dahlia Campus will include early childhood education, pediatric dentistry and classes ranging from art to Zumba. Mental health components of well-being are integrated into Dahlia Campus’s bustling intersection of services and amenities.
But the star attraction: FOOD. Food growing in the one-acre garden. Tilapia and catfish growing in nutrient-rich aquaponics tanks that nourish vegetables growing above. Food from local farmers and gardeners sold on site. Food prepared in a kitchen designed to teach nutritious cooking. Food growing around the neighborhood by newly minted urban gardeners.
“Dahlia Campus is establishing a new nucleus for the community,” says Beverly Grant, owner of Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace and advisor to Dahlia Campus. When grocery stores were removed years ago, the area became a food desert. Grant and others are focused on restoring healthy food as a centerpiece of community well-being. “We’ll be teaching everything related to food production,” says Grant, “from the seed to the stomach.”
A Victorian mansion in Capitol Hill is being reinvented to create a community for youth and young adults seeking support for their mental health and overall well-being. The homey, colorful house opens its doors to people ages 14-26 whose needs and interests defy standard classifications. “It’s a natural, welcoming environment,” says Emerson St. Program Director Michelle Coldiron. “It says healing and hope.”
Typically, youth under 18 fall under “children and families” while people over 18 are covered by “adult services.” It’s an arbitrary distinction, largely based on funding streams, and it ignores the needs of young people growing into adulthood. An evaluation revealed that people age 18-25 were disengaging from services at the Mental Health Center of Denver. “We see a ‘transition cliff’ from about age 18 to 21,” says Coldiron. It’s a time when young people are leaving high school, moving out on their own, entering the work force or higher education, forming adult relationships, and assuming adult responsibilities.
Late adolescence and early adulthood is also when acute mental health challenges may first appear. Gaël*, now 25, has been coming to Emerson St. since the spring of 2015. Tall, slender and athletic, Gaël is an avid reader and enjoys movies, especially Star Wars. He says his path to Emerson St. started in high school when his dad was diagnosed with cancer.
“I stopped inviting friends to come over.” Soon after Gaël started college, his father died, and he returned home to his mother and younger brother. “I underestimated the struggles dealing with my dad’s death without my friends’ support.”
In 2014, he went through a manic episode at work, followed by six months of hospitalizations. Back home, he became reclusive until his mother “dragged me out of the house to take a tour of Emerson St.” At first, he went reluctantly. As the program grew, so did Gaël’s interest. “The list of things I could do grew. I began to look forward to seeing the people there.” He took an interest in the vegetable garden and yoga classes. “It’s grown on me and I’ve grown with it.”
Gaël has landed a new job, and still goes to Emerson St. for therapy and occasional drop-in activities.
While Emerson St. helps people like Gaël recover their lives, it also reaches out to others. “We ask, ‘How can we help change someone’s trajectory with more prevention and early intervention?’” says Coldiron. “We have ‘pop-in’ times when people can socialize and find a sense of belonging.” “Peers are very important at this stage of life,” says Coldiron. "At Emerson St. we are building a peer community."
For more in-depth help, Emerson St. offers individual and group therapy, supported education and employment, peer support services, connections to housing, coordination with psychiatry and primary care, and case management. Emerson St. also offers classes in cooking and nutrition, creative writing, mindfulness, yoga, music jams and other pathways to well-being.
Emerson St. deliberately speaks a nonclinical language, replacing “initial assessment” with a “meet & greet.” Instead of a “treatment plan,” people identify and work toward “goals.” The program is always evolving in response to those being served. “Participants get involved in program design, learn skills and find their own path in growth and healing,” says Coldiron.
*a pseudonym was used to protect the privacy of the client
Breaking Through with Art Therapy
“Art is a metaphor for what is going on inside,” says Art Therapist Sarah Thompson, who practices at Emerson St. Holding a master’s degree in art therapy, she is trained in both fine art and psychology.
Recognized since the 1940s as an effective form of treatment, art therapy provides a clearer window into a person’s emotions than talking to a counselor. “It’s a way people can communicate their inner struggles,” says Thompson. The act of art-making helps reduce anxiety, resolve conflicts and boost self-esteem.
Thompson once worked with a young man who was prone to angry outbursts. One day, he began working with clay very roughly. “He told me he was punching it, that it felt good, and it was safer than hitting a person,” Thompson recalls. Then he shaped the clay into a volcano to represent his anger. Finally, Thompson asked him to create something different from anger. The youth flattened the clay into a plaque and inscribed “LOVE.” “You can’t love anyone until you love yourself first,” he said. It resembled a plaque he kept beside his bed—the last gift he received from his mother a decade earlier. “It was incredible to see so much growth in a 45-minute session,” says Thompson.
“People are looking for more creative treatment modalities,” says Thompson. “Creative art therapy including music, dance, movement, yoga, poetry—these are the future of therapy.”
"Safe and affordable housing is a basic right of everyone, and it is a fundamental building block of well-being."
Since its inception, the Mental Health Center of Denver has integrated housing programs into its work. From the beginning, clients have said that housing, along with access to medications, is a top priority.
Today, as Vice President of Adult Recovery Services, Kristi Mock oversees one of the nation’s most robust housing programs integrated with mental health services. “If you don’t have a safe, affordable place to live, all your energy goes into where you’re going to spend tonight, tomorrow night or next week,” says Mock. “It’s hard to do what’s needed to recover, like making appointments, going to school or keeping a job.”
Many reasons contribute to homelessness for people served by the Mental Health Center of Denver. “They may have fractured relationships and disrupted support systems, difficulties with neighbors, or their finances don’t stretch that far in this economy to cover security deposits and rent.
Many people are just one paycheck away from being homeless,” says Mock. “When that paycheck is not received or one unexpected expense occurs, it can be a downward spiral that is hard to reverse.”
The goal is to support clients in living independently at the location and under the circumstances that they desire. A variety of housing options must respond to the particular needs of each individual and family. For this reason, the Mental Health Center of Denver offers an array of housing options.
Residential treatment: Persons with a number of support needs may live in group homes for up to 90 days, and longer if necessary. Treatment is available onsite, along with support to develop independent living skills, such as budgeting, cooking, basic housekeeping—even how to do laundry.
Permanent supportive housing /Congregate housing: The Mental Health Center of Denver is a thoughtful and caring landlord in several apartment buildings located in areas near public transportation and amenities. Residents live independently, however an apartment manager is available to assist them in navigating apartment-life experiences and to help coordinate services with the clinical staff at the Mental Health Center of Denver.
Section 8 Vouchers: The organization collaborates with Denver Housing Authority and Colorado Division of Housing to administer housing subsidies for persons with low income who need financial assistance to afford housing.
Managing a many-faceted housing program is a multi-million dollar enterprise requiring creativity and collaboration among many partners. “None of these housing opportunities are cookie-cutter,” says Mock. “We’ve grown in under-standing of the importance of housing, knowing how to make it available and finding the resources to do it.”
Housing Options Expand in 2015: 60 More Units to Open in 2017
In May 2015, the Mental Health Center of Denver opened 15 newly refurbished residences in a distinguished early 20th century apartment building on Humboldt Street. Located near the bustling East Colfax commercial and transit corridor, the Humboldt apartment building makes the fourth congregate housing site in Adult Recovery Services. Prior to the building being completely remodeled, the Mental Health Center of Denver used the building for offices.
Residents at these locations live independently while benefiting from extra support from a resident manager. “We offer another layer of support to residents who may have struggled in a previous housing situation,” says Residential Program Manager Ann Selling, who oversees three apartment buildings owned and operated by the Mental Health Center of Denver.
“If we notice someone needs food, or furniture, or is struggling with symptoms, we’re able to step in and help,” says Selling. She serves as a liaison between residents, building managers and the clinical team to help maintain connections to support. “We work with people where they are, and with an understanding set of eyes to step in with help if necessary. Our ultimate goal is to help people stay well and flourish in the community.”
In 2017, the Mental Health Center of Denver will reach another milestone by opening the 50,000 square-foot Sanderson Apartments, its first permanent supportive housing facility designed and built from the ground up. Located on South Federal Boulevard, Sanderson Apartments will feature 60 one-bedroom, one-bath apartments with on-site amenities, including a library, recreation spaces, laundry, basketball court and community garden.
Board of Directors
Lucille Johnson Campbell
Charles Everill, Treasurer
Charlie Elizabeth Eldridge
Velvia Garner, Emeritus Member
Nancy Gary, Lifetime Member
Rick Simms, Chair
Edie Sonn, Vice Chair
Colorado Crisis Services completed its first year of operations, providing 24-hour access to services for anyone in need. The Mental Health Center of Denver provides a walk-in clinic and respite care in Denver as part of a statewide network of mental health, substance use and emotional crisis help. 844-493-TALK (8255)
For the third year running, The Denver Post recognized the Mental Health Center of Denver as one of its Top Workplaces 2015.
Our annual Gifts of Hope fundraising breakfast raised a record $92,000 in one hour, for a total of more than$100,000 raised by the event.
The Strong Families-Strong Children capital campaign is nearing 90 percent completion toward the $5 million goal. The campaign supports Dahlia Campus for Health and Well-Being. We anticipate surpassing our goal when the campaign ends in June 2016.