The first big learning for me when I began my career in mental health more than thirty years ago was how many lives had been derailed by mental illness and how unnecessary that seemed to be. I decided to specialize in the rehabilitation and recovery side of mental health because I believed that people with severe depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia could have good lives if they had a decent place to live and opportunities to work, socialize, and belong to a community.
I did not give much thought to education because most of the people I worked with were already in their thirties or older. But once I got to know them I realized that many had once cherished hopes for a college degree until mental illness drove their lives off course.
At Laurel House, Inc., where I began my career in mental health, I met so many talented and gifted people who possessed a natural intelligence and love of learning. Some had attended a year or two of college, but very few possessed the degree that might have served as a gateway to a better life.
Most mental health conditions begin before the age of 24, and some of the most serious disorders hit during the prime college years of late adolescence and emerging adulthood. I think of my own brother who withdrew from college at the age of 22 and later developed schizophrenia. Or of several friends who attended college with me during the 70s but never made it to graduation.
Sinking grades, sleeping all day and not attending classes, bingeing on alcohol and drugs, love affairs that soured – these were the most visible reasons for their early withdrawal from college. But after working at Laurel House, I realized that many of them were probably struggling with untreated mental health conditions. Now I cannot help but wonder how many of them, with the benefit of today’s treatments and medications, and a complement of supportive services, might have graduated and received their degrees.
Supported Education at Laurel House, Inc. – Serving Darien
and Surrounding Communities for Close to 30 Years
Laurel House, Inc., is a nonprofit organization based in Stamford, CT. In addition to the services of www.rtor.org, it provides resources and opportunities for people living with mental illness to lead fulfilling and productive lives in their communities throughout Fairfield County, CT. In 1989, Laurel House launched its Supported Education Program, one of the first in the country for people with mental health conditions. At the time, the average age of participants was late 30s to early 40s. Most participants had taken some college courses prior to enrollment, often in 4-year colleges and universities. Supported Education counselors helped them enroll in classes at community college, vocational schools, and the local branch of the state university and provided support to enable them to meet their degree requirements.
Laurel House pioneered the way for Supported Education in mental health. Twenty-eight years later, the median age of students in the program has gone down to 28. Students with mental health problems who are currently attending college are now able to stay in school, rather than withdrawing and having to go back twenty years later. Students in the program are also attending more 4-year colleges, some located out of state. With the right support, students with mental health problems can continue their college education with little or no interruption.
A New Program for College Student Mental Health
In July of 2017, Laurel House received a grant of $20,000 from the Community Fund of Darien (CFD) that will enable rtor.org to do even more to help young and emerging adults with mental health disorders. These funds will go towards the salary of a Youth Resource Specialist to serve young people from Darien and surrounding communities of Fairfield County, CT. Through the website www.rtor.org we are reaching out to Fairfield County youth between the ages of 16 and 33 and their families, providing them with coaching, supportive services, and access to expert resources for care and treatment to help them succeed in college and beyond.
In keeping with its innovative spirit, Laurel House, Inc., powered by its gateway website www.rtor.org, is once more pushing the boundaries of Supported Education. The new Youth Resource Specialist will follow local students with mental health needs on campus via new technologies for telehealth, support, and communication, as they head off to college in the fall. This CFD-funded position will complement Laurel House’s existing Supported Education Program at local colleges and vocational schools, helping young people from Darien and other towns in Fairfield County succeed at 4-year colleges and universities across the country.
Directory of Family-Endorsed Providers to Focus on
Young Adult Resources for College Students
The Community Fund of Darien grant will also help expand the website’s Directory of Family-Endorsed Providers, featuring more providers who specialize in age-appropriate services for young and emerging adults. The Directory is a free resource for families and individuals seeking trusted, expert providers in mental health and related fields.
No other mental health website offers such a service. The Directory of Family-Endorsed Providers helps people find vetted mental health resources that have been recommended and endorsed by the families of people who actually use their services.
New providers who are expert in treatment and support for young adults with mental illness have been added, such as our newest Family-Endorsed Providers Skyland Trail, Turnbridge, and Yellowbrick. Expanding young adult offerings in the Directory allows rtor.org to reach even more youth with mental health needs, helping them connect with resources to prepare for college, the workplace, and independent living.
www.rtor.org will also bring you more information, news, and expert opinions on young adult and college student mental health.
Do You Know a Young Adult with Mental Health Needs About to Enter College?
www.rtor.org and Laurel House can help. With the support of the Community Fund of Darien, www.rtor.org will now have two Resource Specialists on call to answer inquiries from families, help young adults connect with resources and services for support, and identify and vet Family-Endorsed Providers specializing in young adult services for mental health.
In addition to the work supported by the Community Fund of Darien, our Resource Specialists also receive requests for help from across the United States and reply to all requests with a free personalized response and recommendations.
When Laurel House started Supported Education in 1989 a mental health diagnosis had the potential to derail a young person’s life. That is no longer the case. Today, www.rtor.org and Laurel House, Inc., offer Resources to Recover to help young people with a wide variety of diagnoses and levels of impairment stay on track to success in college and a life beyond.
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- Connecticut Mother Who Lost a Son to Overdose Shares Her Story and Hosts Wilton Fundraiser to Benefit Laurel House - November 9, 2022
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