History of JIMHO

Justice In Mental Health Organization (JIMHO) was founded in 1980 by Richard Wellwood. In 1975 after Richard's breakdown and first suicide attempt, he ended up in a mental health system that only seemed to revolve. Richard made further suicide attempts, was hospitalized, on Social Security, in a day treatment program and a clubhouse program. Richard was put on Thorazine and in therapy. He was then cut off from his Social Security benefits, having been deemed fit because he could attend day treatment. Without benefits, the only income he had was from his wife, who worked at a minimum wage job to help support him and their two children. Richard sat home with the children watching them grow up but unable to be a part of their lives.

Through all of this, Richard began to realize that this "system" was not meeting his needs or the needs of others. The "system" never gave him or others an opportunity to progress beyond it. Richard began to think about what it would take for him and others to truly get better. As he went through the process of treatment and rehabilitation he realized that there was something he needed that was not there.

Richard found that day treatment was ineffective and that vocational rehabilitation offered no challenge for him. These programs treated individuals like children. He and others around him were over-medicated and had no stimulation to get better.

Justice In Mental Health means justice within our lives. It means justice in family, housing, employment and our social lives, with civil and legal rights as well. At this time, Richard was working for the Center for Handicapper Affairs. He saw how they had come together in support for their lives and felt that people with mental and emotional problems deserved the same.

Richard decided, with the help of another individual, that they would gather people together to advocate for change in the system. It was a slow process. Individuals were afraid to come forward to say that they were mental health consumers or that the system needed change.

A Tuesday night support meeting was started with about six to eight members. This was the beginning of JIMHO. The Tuesday night self-help support meeting was for people suffering from so-called "mental illness." The meetings were held once a week and the agenda was decided by those who attended. Issues such as medication, neglect, hospitalization, abuse, over-medication, housing, employment, human services agencies, Social Security, families and friends and local mental health agency programs were discussed. The major issue was the treatment received in the state-run hospitals: abuse, neglect and over-drugging of the patients.

The group came together to help each other overcome difficulties and to prevent re-hospitalization. Many individuals in the mental health system do not have the support of family and friends. The individuals, then and today, only want a chance to put their lives back together and to be productive again. The group began to help each other find housing, food and clothing. The group was a place to socialize as well as a place to be where people understood each other and what each was going through. The group members shared the pain of their peers with support and real empathy. They shared experience finding solutions to a variety of problems. They came together to help each other stay in the community.

No one deserves to be treated as inhumanely as we have been. No one should be neglected as we have been. Trying to live with our mental and emotional problems kept in the closet gets us nowhere. We need not be ashamed of where we have been. We should be proud that we have endured and that we have survived.

As the group grew larger and larger, so did the expenses involved. A proposal was developed for funding to continue and enhance the work of consumers helping consumers stay in the community. This project was entitled Project Stay. It provided the minimal funding for a space, a director, and a few of the bare needs of the project. The rest came from the community in the form of donations, assistance and support.

The original funding from Community Mental Health was for Project Stay. With the funding, Project Stay found a site to rent. It was a small office in the basement of a building, barely big enough for a few people, a table, chairs and a phone. This became a hub for people with emotional and mental health problems who were in crisis. As people received help from their peers, they often wanted to give something back. By helping others the way they had been helped, the volunteer crew of the project steadily increased. Individuals began coming in just to have somewhere to go where they felt comfortable. In this small cramped office, the drop-in began.

Many things drove Richard over the years to keep fighting for the rights of individuals in the mental health system. He was visiting patients in Ypsilanti State Hospital and seeing the deplorable conditions under which they lived, seeing individuals treated as animals and somehow less than human, seeing individuals having their homes, their families and their lives ripped away from them, and seeing his friends and people he cared about so over-drugged that they couldn't even function. Someone had to speak for these people. Richard encouraged others to speak as well. He went with individuals to Social Security hearings and to court hearings. Richard took people to Washington D.C. to speak to the legislature about conditions in the state hospitals.

Richard and others continued to speak out and educate. They were confronting the stigma and fear in them and in society. In 1985, Richard testified at the Michigan State Capital before the House Appropriations Committee, advocating for more money for consumer-involved projects and consumer alternative projects. Representative Joe Young Sr. indicated that he would like to see the JIMHO drop-in concept replicated across the State of Michigan. With his help and encouragement, Richard applied for funding and Project Doors began.

The first drop-in opened by Project Doors was in Grand Rapids. Over the years, Project Doors has faced many challenges. The original drop-in located in Pontiac burned to the ground. In another community, an individual donated a beautiful home in which to house the drop-in. It was blocked by the city council because the community feared having people with mental and emotional problems walking in their neighborhood.

Local community mental health agencies have reacted in a variety of ways to the concept of consumer-run organizations. Some have wholeheartedly supported with funds and consultation. Others have found the concept of a consumer-run program to be a threat.

Project Doors now has 56 affiliated consumer-run programs. Michigan has the largest number of consumer-run programs in the nation. These centers serve 15,000 unduplicated individuals each year and the numbers continue to grow.

The Drop-in concept began because of a lack of options in the community.  It began as friends helping friends.  The Drop-in concept means that all individuals deserve to be treated as human beings with rights, respect, and dignity.  Individuals deserve to have the opportunity to live their lives within the community. 

From the Project STAY and Drop-in Center concept grew new and innovative consumer-run concepts.  In 1998 JIMHO introduced the very first peer-run emergency shelter program, now called Richard's Place.  This program works with people who suffer from a mental illness and that are homeless towards attaining an income and safe, affordable housing, at the same time, staying off the streets and avoiding victimization by unsafe community shelters.  

In 2010, JIMHO celebrated thirty years of delivering peer-run services and is the longest standing 100% peer-run mental helath organization in the country.  Our vision is that all persons who suffer from a mental illness have the same opportunity to experience peer-support in their lives. The peer-support received within these peer-run programs is a critical element of mental health recovery. 

Richard Wellwood, founder of the Justice in Mental Health Organization, quietly passed away the same day as the Walk A Mile In My Shoes rally at the Michigan State Capital on May 9, 2012.  He left behind countless people who continue to advocate for better mental health services, increased peer support, and the opportunity for those with a mental illness to enjoy a better life.  His legacy will never be forgotten.


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