Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fountain House

Lorna Graev, Carmen dell'Orifice, Anne Mai, Alex Herzan, and Lynn Nicholas
By Nancy A. Ruhling

Lorna Graev will never forget the dark days,
the ones when her mother, Mimi Hyde, got so depressed that she would close the curtains and close herself off from the rest of the world. When she finally did let the light into her self-imposed tomb, it was to usher in a rush of activity that was so frantic that it bordered on insanity.

Lorna Graev
Back and forth, dark and light, her mother’s behavior alternated every three months as regularly as a grandfather clock’s brass pendulum. Graev recalls it as a motherless childhood; the doctors diagnosed it as bipolar disorder.

“She suffered this way for 12 years, until in 1960 she became one of the first people to be treated with lithium,” Graev says. “I often reflect on how brave she was. She was resilient and gutsy.”

The same may be said about Graev, who discovered in 1991 that she had inherited more than she thought from her mother. “I was under a lot of stress – I was living in London, studying art history at the Christie’s school, my father was ill and I was getting a divorce,” she says. “All of a sudden, I had this cycling experience, and I was in overdrive, acting maniacally. And I was thinking, ‘I am my mother’s daughter.’”

Despite the stigma society assigns to mental illness, Graev, like her mother, decided to talk about it in the hopes of helping others, and in 2002, she became a volunteer at Fountain House, the West Side professional self-help program operated by people like her who are recovering from mental illnesses.
Denise Wohl, Debbie Bancroft, and Andrea Stark with Patrick J. Kennedy
Sharon Handler and Alexia Hamm Ryan
“I went to the clubhouse and saw how people with severe mental illness could work and be productive,” she says. “Fountain House empowers its members; it gives them the tools and support they need to live fulfilling lives.”

Founded in 1948, Fountain House, with the help of generous people like Graev, who is the vice chairman of its board, has served more than 16,000 men and women, and its innovative clubhouse model is the basis for more than 400 similar programs in 32 countries around the world that help 50,000 people.

Nicole Limbocker and Clare Potter
Working together, Fountain House members and trained staff create diverse programs that help those with mental illnesses, specifically chronic depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, do everything from hold steady jobs to study for college degrees.

Graev has made Fountain House her mission, devoting most of her time to raising money and raising awareness. The annual symposium and luncheon, founded by Graev and Lynn Nicholas, was attended by nearly 600 people in 2007 and brought in $1 million in donations.

“My goal now is to see that the wellness center is built,” Graev says. “We have the money, and it will be finished in two years. When I was at my worst, exercise helped me survive, so I want Fountain House members to have access to a gym, yoga lessons and other physical activities.”

Mental illness, Graev says, happens in the best of families. She knows first-hand: She is not the only one in hers who has bipolar disorder. And that, she says, is why Fountain House is so important: It lifts the curtains and brings in the healing light for people like her and her mother, bringing them help and hope.

For more information on Fountain House, go to fountainhouse.org.
Hilary Geary
Emilia Saint-Amand
Adrienne Vittadini
Barbie Bancroft and Susan Fales-Hill
Glenn Close and Joe Pantoliano
Monica Noel, Larry Graev, and Mariana Kaufman
Peter Lewis and Kenn Dudek
Pete Early and Peter Jensen

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