By the time she was 21, Brittany Hudson had at least 20 psychiatric hospitalizations, survived several suicide attempts and went through numerous doctors and medications.
“My mental illness was my life; it was what defined me,” said Hudson. “At just 21, I believed it would take my life. I was ready to give up. In my mind, this illness had won.”
Now in her mid-30s, Hudson has quite a different story to tell. Through Vincent House, a community mental health center in Pinellas County, Florida, she gained job skills, confidence and support and now has a productive, independent life as a retail manager with a home, a husband, a car and two cats.
“Vincent House saved my life and made me who I am,” said Hudson at a Sept. 16 ribbon-cutting for a new Vincent House in the region. “Because of them, I am happy and living a great life. I don’t have to fight everyday just to wake up and want to stay alive.”
Hudson told her story to a group of elected officials, mental health advocates and leaders of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative gathered at the opening of the $3.5 million center in Pasco County.
From start to finish, the Dade City co-op has been instrumental in opening the new Vincent House facility, the third in the region. The co-op had a hand in securing private donations and financing from public sources—a $1 million state budget allocation and a $1 million federal Community Development Block Grant.
Calling the new clinic a “quality-of-life improvement,” Florida state Sen. Wilton Simpson said the co-op was “the backbone of the project.”
“It took a lot of folks to make this happen…the county commission, the sheriff…but if [co-op executive vice president and general manager Billy E.] Brown and Withlacoochee Electric hadn’t gotten involved, it would have been impossible to pull this off,” Simpson said.
Withlacoochee River EC’s David Lambert has thrown his energy into improving the community’s access to mental health services since 2014, when he first took a tour of Vincent House in Pinellas County. The nonprofit’s recovery-through-work focus impressed the member relations manager.
“The cooperative has worked tirelessly to improve mental health access in our communities,” said Lambert, a longtime mental health advocate who’s now board president of Vincent House. “If we don’t improve the lives of people we serve, who will?”
Americans are reporting that stress from the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening other mental health conditions. And in poor rural areas like Pasco County, mental health services are already scarce, said Brown, the co-op’s general manager. The Hernando County facility has outgrown its current home in a strip mall due to high demand and is looking for a larger home, he said. The co-op is raising money for the expansion.
Florida’s three Vincent House locations are based on the Clubhouse International model that supports people living with mental illness by offering them “memberships” in community-based centers. Members get job training and placement services and build social and organizational skills by participating in various structured activities, including running the clubhouses.
It’s a model that has “saved countless lives and families by lower suicide rates, hospitalization rates and incarceration rates,” said Brown. “Every day, Vincent House proves the doctors wrong by its members with mental illness leading full productive lives and becoming gainfully employed in the community.”
Voctira A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.
Watch a related video on the Vincent House facility in Hernando County: