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Mental Health Services Get a Boost

Take a walk down Manako Lane in Kaunakakai on any given weekday and you will notice an unassuming green house nestled in the corner, buzzing with traffic. Several days a week, mental health patients gather at this spot – known as the clubhouse – which they describe as a place of solace and understanding.

“We get to do activities, talk with each other, keep our minds busy,” said Paul Fischer, who visits the clubhouse regularly.

The Hana Ka Lima Clubhouse is a mental health drop-in center, serving about 70 Molokai residents suffering from mental illnesses. Joe Childs, facility director and case manager, helps reintegrate members into the community through counseling, work programs and therapeutic activities, such as gardening and cooking.

After funding was slashed earlier this year, two social worker positions at the clubhouse were cut, leaving Childs, along with his wife, Althea, to run the center. Hours of operation were subsequently reduced by nearly half.

“It’s difficult without a bigger staff,” Childs said. “We at least hope to restore hours soon.”

Piece of Mind

While the clubhouse, along with other mental health services on Molokai, struggle to stay afloat, state officials hope that a new mental health transformation grant awarded to the state Department of Health (DOH) will offer some relief.

The grant, which gives Hawaii more than $2 million per year for five years, is intended to focus on prevention, effective intervention and recovery through an array of services, said Sharlene Chun-Lum, chief operations officer for the grant. So far, the grant has helped pay for new computers for the clubhouse, and sent about 10 clubhouse members to a Consumers, Families and Youth (CFY) Hui meeting on Maui last Thursday.

A CFY Hui is a new state-wide program under the grant that brings together mental health constituents, both adults and youth, and their `ohana, with mental health organizations to receive information on services and support.

“The money is not just going to keep the clubhouse open,” added Michelle Hill, deputy director of the Behavior Health Administration in the DOH. “It’s going to improve the system and transform mental health services.”

A major issue the department hopes to address is the stigma of mental health illnesses, which are commonly overlooked or ignored.

“In Hawaiian culture it’s more common to say ‘my drunk uncle,’ rather than ‘my uncle with a mental health problem,’” Chun-Lum said. “They try to show no shame.”

To help ease the fear of being looked down upon, the department has been training peer specialists, who too have mental health illnesses, to effectively communicate their stories with others and show that there is no shame in seeking help. Three Molokai residents have been trained so far.

“It puts a face on mental health,” Chun-Lum said. “By sharing their stories, they give hope.”

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