After 10 years of hard work and a passion for helping people living with mental illness, the Mental Health Network has a place to call home in Hope House.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary recently, the staff and consumer survivors gathered at Hope House on Raleigh Street in Chatham to look back on its beginning with the founder of the Chatham-Kent Family Network, Ida Vsetula, who started the organization in 1996 because she wanted something more for children living with mental illness.
“Forty years ago, my son David showed signs of mental illness and I was desperate for help and support. I dreamed of a world without stigma and one with hope and recovery,” Vsetula told the people gathered.
She attended her first meeting for the network for families of the mentally ill in 1997 and became its chair for the next 14 years.
Network executive director Kelly Gottschling spoke from the heart at the event, and said the people gathered made a very big impact on her life and “we have enhanced each other’s life in a way that only a peer support organization can.”
Gottschling thanked the community partners who helped make Hope House possible, including Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope and MPP Rick Nicholls, who advocated on behalf of the group.
“No other consumer survivor organization owns their own property, one that was chosen with care, renovated with love and funded by our community,” Gottschling said. “Hope House is a model that others across the province want to duplicate.”
She said she fields many calls from other organizations who want to visit and get assistance with creating a similar network.
“In the past 10 years I have witnessed illness, hopelessness, shame and fear. I have miraculously seen that turn into hope, confidence and self-love, allowing people to be free from illness, seek employment, have productive relationships, go back to school and have the life of their choosing. Together with our mental health teams, we have saved and enhanced lives.”
Nicholls also spoke to the crowd and said bringing awareness to the province and cities is important, something The Mental Health Network has achieved in Chatham-Kent.
“Today we are out in the open. No back doors; we go in through the front door and hold our heads high,” he told the crowd at Hope House. “Suffering from mental illness is not shameful, there is hope out there.”
Nicholls added he loved the motto at Hope House – “Love lives here” – that he said sums up the attitude of the network, staff and consumers.
“Sometimes people with mental health issues feel all isolated, but here you don’t have to. You have people to share with and don’t have to feel all alone.”
Hope said that today, because of Hope House, people have a safe haven to go to for hope and recovery.
“We needed a place where people could find support. It’s important to have a safe place, a place of comfort, a place of trust where they can talk to somebody who has the ability to listen and give a lending hand of support,” the mayor said said.