Mental Health Clubhouses: Restoring a Sense of Self

One member answers the phone at the reception desk. Another enters data into a computer. Another does research for an article in the next issue of the clubhouse newsletter.


At the Meeting Place, the oldest mental health clubhouse in San Diego and California, members each have a job to do to accomplish their goal: reestablish and redefine who they are.

People who are diagnosed with a mental illness often lose their sense of self. They stop being who they were. They lose their jobs. Their relationships disintegrate. To those around them, they sometimes are nothing more than their mental illness.

“People lose their role in society. They are defined by their illness,” said Sharron Hedenkamp, Executive Director of the Meeting Place, as she gave a tour of the clubhouse. “People who come here did not have an outlet to integrate socially, rebuild their self-image. Here they once again become students. They become employees. They become friends with someone else.”

The Meeting Place is one of 13 mental health clubhouses funded by the County.

The clubhouses serve as community meeting places and support settings for mental health clients, their friends and family and community members. They also help members improve their social skills and offer vocational training as part of their recovery. 

The members and staff of a clubhouse work side-by-side as colleagues and manage all operations of the facility, giving members an opportunity to contribute in significant and meaningful ways. Clubhouses also offer an environment of support, acceptance, and commitment to the potential contributions of each member. Clubhouses help people with mental illness stay out of hospitals.

“Clubhouses are an integral part of the mental health system of care. They provide recovery services to individuals with serious mental health problems,” said Piedad García, Director of Mental Health Services for Adults and Older Adults. “The clubhouses provide support services and skill development to improve functioning in the community.”

At the Meeting Place, members prepare breakfast and lunch, using only organic food and ingredients. They wash dishes. They manage a café, where they serve leftover food at a minimum price to those members who missed a meal. They do yoga, lift weights and exercise. They produce a daily newscast and write their own newsletter.

Bryan Drum writes for the clubhouse newsletter and is working on an article on local services available for people with disabilities.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder one year ago, Bryan likes coming to the Meeting Place, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. At the clubhouse, he does not feel isolated. Here, everyone understands. Everyone can relate.

“It’s fantastic. They helped me access social services,” said Drum, who works full time as an usher at a movie theater and as a data entry specialist at a mental health services provider. “It gave me a safe place to come and work.”

Mily Cordero, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 16, has been a member for seven years. She cooks lunch, sells tickets at the café, and does data entry. She goes to the clubhouse every one of the six days it’s open. She has not been hospitalized since becoming a member.

“For the first time in my life I was energized and motivated. I felt stable,” said Mily,  lying on a lazy chair and reading an entertainment magazine in a softly-lit back room of the clubhouse. The Relaxation, Enlightenment and Meditation (REM) Room is a place where members can relax or take a break from their daily activities.

“Coming here gives me a sense of accomplishment. It gives me confidence,” Mily concluded.

For more information about the Meeting Place, call (619) 294-9582.