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Guest Commentary: Hope Clubhouse provides hope

By DOTTIE PACHARIS - Mental health advocate and author of the book, Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle | Sep 15, 2023

Dottie Pacharis

Although September has been designated Suicide Prevention Month, every month should be Suicide Prevention Month. U.S. suicides hit an all-time high of nearly 49,500 in 2022, the highest number ever according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida, suicide rates in 2022 were higher than any of the last four years at just more than 3,400 people.

Higher rates of depression and limited availability of mental health services have contributed to this increase according to the CDC. Nine in 10 Americans believe this country is facing a mental health crisis according to U.S Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra.

Psychopath, wacko, crazy, nuts, maniac… words I frequently hear used to describe people suffering from mental illness. Would we refer so callously to people with cancer, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease? Mentally ill individuals have a disease, and they need treatment.

I am the mother of a son who struggled with severe bipolar disorder for 13 years. After his first attempt at suicide, and again following his second attempt, his family begged him not to ever do it again. Yet despite the extraordinary and loving efforts of his family who supported him and advocated for him, his brain was telling him he wanted to die. His third attempt was successful. He had just turned 40 years old.

Today, behind so many of those smiling faces we see are people like my son… suffering from depression and other mental disorders who battle suicidal thoughts 24/7.

Some people reach such depths of despair and pain that they begin to believe that they would be better off dead.

Many believe their families would be better off without them.

Mental illness is cruel and embarrassing. It is not something people choose. It is not a character flaw. It is not a sign of laziness or weakness. It does not discriminate based on age, class, or ethnicity. It is an illness that can be successfully treated with medication. Mental illness does not have to result in suicide.

The behavioral health community in Fort Myers is in crisis. While the prevalence of mental health disorders continues to increase, the number of crisis-care centers, psychiatrists, and mental health counselors continues to decline. Many residents are unable to access the care they need and succumb to a psychiatric episode.

Hope Clubhouse of Southwest Florida is the only non-profit organization in the Fort Myers community that supports adults living with mental illness. These adults can spend a lifetime in and out of emergency rooms, jails, and psychiatric hospitals. The power of the Clubhouse program is its effectiveness in keeping its members out of the hospital, reducing their encounters with law enforcement, and on a continuous path to recovery.

Hope Clubhouse provides opportunities for paid employment, access to education, affordable housing, and assistance in obtaining appropriate medical and psychiatric services. The Clubhouse is not a treatment facility. Rather, it is a gathering place with structure that promotes healing, opportunity, purpose, and empowerment. It offers three programs for development — Business, Culinary, and Horticulture. Members work in the unit of their choice. Membership is open to anyone over the age of 18 with a history of mental illness at no cost to members. For more information on Hope Clubhouse – (hopeclubhouse.org).

Fort Myers is the sixth fastest growing city in the nation according to the Census Bureau. Access to mental health resources has not kept pace with this surge in population. There is no health without mental health.

— Dottie Pacharis is a mental health advocate and author of the book, Mind on the Run – A Bipolar Chronicle. She lives in Fort Myers.