Working better together

Mental Health America, Cedars HOPE join

Lisa Smith, photography by Ellie Bogue

Lisa Smith, photography by Ellie Bogue

To Lisa Smith, executive director of Mental Health America in Allen County, service to others is ingrained in her DNA.

“There’s definitely something very inspiring and fulfilling when you know you’re doing something for others,” said Smith, who until her recent marriage was known as Lisa Freeman. “My career in social service has really centered around service to others,” she said. That service includes time at the United Way of Allen County and as an interim head of Cedars HOPE, Inc., an agency that provides permanent, supportive housing for mentally ill women who are at risk for homelessness.

“Interim” is the key word; Cedars HOPE is now a program of Mental Health America, having recently joined forces with MHA to coordinate their missions. Since 1954, MHA has offered education about mental illness and advocated on behalf of individuals in the community whose lives are impacted by mental illness, substance abuse or developmental disability, according to its website.

Together they can assist the Cedars HOPE clients with services and support. Demand is growing, Smith said, and by taking on Cedars HOPE’s 15 clients, MHA provides a model for how other people living with mental illness can best be served.

Those services include taking calls from people in the community dealing with either their own or a loved one’s mental health issues, offering guidance and support for those who are being hospitalized and providing educational resources for area schools.

The agency’s staff also provides training and workshops for area businesses and other social service agencies, as well as offering legal guardianship for about 60 residents of the now-closed state developmental center who remain in the region and guardianship for other adults with mental illnesses.

Another area MHA is focusing on is suicide prevention and support for those left behind by a suicide. Smith said Northeast Indiana ranks above the national average of suicides and attempts, with the largest group of both suicides and attempted suicides being white men ages 35-65.

“We have a really good advocate on staff, (who can) walk them through strategies and help them know where to go to get the help they need,” she said.

In the coming years, Smith said she wants to help MHA expand its advocacy on behalf of its clients, increase its ability to serve walk-in clients and add peer support around the region.

“We want people to know we’re here to help.”

First appeared in the July 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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