Making an Impact: Healing the Mind

Mental and behavioral health are essential components of a person’s overall health. Approximately one in five families in the United States is affected by a mental illness, which is why United Way of Whatcom County is proud to support a variety of programs that empower individuals with mental illness and help these individuals on the road to recovery.
 
With many misconceptions about mental illness, it’s great to know that there is hope and help for individuals here in our community. Doors are wide open at several Whatcom County organizations and United Way of Whatcom County invests funds in several local programs that are devoted to helping people achieve or return to a healthy lifestyle.
 
When a person walks through the door of the Rainbow Recovery Center, a United Way of Whatcom County funded program through Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic, the staff sympathizes with the person and understands his or her struggles — because many of them have also faced and overcame them. The Rainbow Center is peer-run by fellow members who have overcome illnesses, received specialized training and are now active in running all parts of the center.
 
“They give the clients a sense of how to go about finding a recovery,” says Jim Gilchrist, Director of the Rainbow Center.
 
It is a safe, supportive and welcoming recovery-oriented environment for adults with mental health illnesses and sees about 100 people a day Last year, the Rainbow Center served 1149 adults.
 
“The staff will work with a person individually to screen that person, come up with a plan for recovery and set a goal,” Gilchrist says.
 
For some, it may be finding enough stability to keep a job. For many, it is learning to cope with struggles and lead a balanced, productive life in the community. 
 
About 60% of the members are homeless and use the center as a lifeline. For basic hygiene needs, people can receive laundry and shower vouchers, as well as a fresh hot meal for $1 or in exchange for a chore.
 
People can attend support meetings and get training for finding work.
 
“For many people, it’s a matter of overcoming anxiety,” Gilchrist says. 
 
The Rainbow Center’s philosophy is that work and socialization help members gain self-worth, purpose and confidence by engaging with others with similar abilities.
 
“The overall goal is to empower them,” Gilchrist says. 
 
Contributions to United Way of Whatcom County help to support this program and build confidence that translates into independence and less reliance on public financial support.
 
Cindy Paffumi, Behavioral Health Manager at Interfaith Community Health Center, says their center often proves to be a lifeline for Whatcom County residents who need help dealing with their illness or anxiety.  In response to current studies on the growing need for services for individuals with mental illness, recently United Way of Whatcom County began investing funds in their Integrated Behavioral Health Project. 
 
The health center, conveniently located in downtown Bellingham, provided behavioral health consultations and follow-up interviews for aproximately 1,000 people in 2015.
 
Paffumi also says members who come in are often dealing with other issues, and a significant population is homeless, without access to basic resources. 
 
When a client comes in, professionals develop treatment plans to meet the client’s wide range of needs, which may include depression, anxiety, and chronic conditions.
 
The center offers various treatments, emphasizing group therapy. One of the advantages of group therapy is that it helps the patient realize he or she is not alone; others are going through a similar situation, Paffumi says. They give each other mutual support.
 
 “Mental health illnesses and anxiety take a significant toll on the person’s confidence,” she says. Paffumi often works with women who have ceased taking care of their appearances and let their internal feelings reflect on the surface. 
 
 “It’s about helping people feel better,” Paffumi says. “And it’s about helping them get on with their lives.”
 
United Way of Whatcom County also invests funds in Sun Community Service’s Transition to the Community Program which provides a home and structure for individuals that might otherwise be living on the streets struggling with mental illness. Funds are also allocated to Catholic Community Service’s Mental Health and Care Management Program, a program  with services that address mental health needs of low-income individuals and families who have no or inadequate funding resources. They provide parent education classes and support to individuals and groups, education/counseling to individuals and families, and medical care management services. 
 
Supporting programs that empower and heal individuals with mental illness is one of the ways that United Way of Whatcom County is investing in the health of our overall community. Your contributions to United Way of Whatcom County’s Community Impact Fund make this possible and create a stronger community, you truly make a difference.
 
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