In Our View: Grass-Roots Triumph

The Wellness Project earns prestigious national award

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The best solutions, the ones that actually can make an impact on lives, can easily go unnoticed.

Sure, the typical social crisis is greeted with hand-wringing and grandstanding by Congress as that august national body pretends to solve our problems. But the more efficient solutions can be found at the often-anonymous grass-roots level.

Such is the case with a Vancouver effort known as The Wellness Project. Therefore, it is with much pleasure that we point out a recent award received by the project, which provides free mental health services right here in Vancouver.

The Wellness Project recently garnered national recognition from The Mutual of America Foundation, a charitable wing of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Co. The program was selected out of hundreds of nonprofit organizations that applied for a Community Partnership Award, and also was awarded a $20,000 gift from Mutual of America.

The criteria? As reported by Scott Hewitt in The Columbian: "The winning formula is a mental health clinic that enlists diverse partners from all around the region who provide mental health services for uninsured people — often destitute and homeless — that is equal in quality of the services provided to people who can pay or have Medicaid, the federal program providing health care for the poor."

It's a simple-sounding mission, yet it can be constrained by financial realities. The Wellness Project, which provides services out of a building at 317 E. 39th St., uses mental health professionals who volunteer their time, and graduate-level counseling students from universities in the area.

Those services are invaluable, as mental health care is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation. Failing to provide assistance for those who need it can increase costs elsewhere in terms of crime, hospitalizations, and additional services. Many social problems can best be served by addressing the underlying problem of mental illness, yet those most in need often are those most unable to afford help or most unlikely to seek assistance.

In honoring The Wellness Project, officials from Mutual of America stressed the fact that the program could easily be replicated in other locales. That is one of its strongest selling points, and that is one of the benefits of a small, community-based partnership. It can be tailored to fit the needs of the local populace. Because of that, we hope The Wellness Project continues to grow and thrive. But until mental illness is properly understood and is treated with compassion, its costs to society will spiral.

There remains a stigma associated with mental illness that often limits our willingness to offer services and often inhibits the afflicted from seeking help. Many people see fit to blame patients for their illness, failing to recognize that it often is treatable — sometimes with counseling, sometimes with medication.

We wouldn’t shun somebody who, say, requires medication for a heart problem, but we often are loath to assist those who are mentally ill.

As Brian Willoughby, a board member for The Wellness Project, pointed out, the mentally ill often cannot get help until they land in jail or an emergency room. “Imagine if we treated cancer patients that way,” he said.

Yes, imagine. And then imagine if every community had one outlet or several outlets like The Wellness Project. It just might make our society a little better.