The Early Years
Mental Health America of West Central Indiana traces its roots to a caring group of citizens, who formed the Mental Hygiene Society as an outgrowth of the Vigo County Welfare Office in 1930. The onset of WWII put the group on hiatus, but it would reconvene in the post-war years, re-forming as the Vigo County Mental Hygiene Society, Inc. in 1950, one of eleven such affiliates of the Indiana Mental Hygiene Society.
The group had approached Katherine Hamilton, a mental health professional whose compassion for the mentally ill and their families grew from her own experience of having to institutionalize her sister. Hamilton, whose name would later become synonymous with mental health in Vigo County, was a tireless advocate and driving force behind many of the innovative programs initiated by the organization.
Throughout the 1950s, the organization sought to advocate and care for the mentally ill, especially those housed in state hospitals, and their families. Its Adopt-a-Patient program, which paired volunteers with “forgotten” patients in such hospitals, was successful enough to be emulated across the state. The society also served families by organizing affordable transportation to state hospitals, allowing them to visit their loved ones. The group’s advocacy on behalf of the incarcerated mentally ill resulted in expedited admission to state hospitals.
The ’60s & ’70s
After the death of Katherine Hamilton in 1961, the group continued its work by establishing a summer day camp for special needs children. The association also adopted a plan for the development of a comprehensive mental health center in Vigo County. Local donors matched state and federal funds to construct the new facility, and the group’s board voted to give its share of Katherine Hamilton’s estate toward the Katherine Hamilton Mental Health Center Building Fund, currently known as Hamilton Center. Ground was broken for the facility in 1968.
In 1971, the Katherine Hamilton Mental Health Center opened, providing all but in-patient services. Now known as the Vigo County Association for Mental Health, the organization’s board recognized that its position as an advocate and watchdog for the mentally ill was not compatible with becoming a part of the new mental health center. The association’s unique role as facilitator of cooperative services, education and advocacy required its independence.
The ’80s and ’90s
Recognizing the benefits of early education, MHAWCI developed and implemented programming to encourage positive behaviors and healthy attitudes among children. Its I’m Thumbody and Very Important Kid programs helped educate children, parents and teachers about good mental health practices and the development of self-esteem.
Junior Mental Health America of West Central Indiana (JMHAWCI) was formed, and No Fear Future Clubs were implemented in middle schools to teach adolescents to make healthy choices and contribute to their community through service to others.
The association also developed and facilitated support groups for families of seriously mentally ill individuals, including a group specifically for parents of seriously emotionally disturbed children.
Times have changed, and MHAWCI has evolved to meet the changing landscape of mental health treatment, education and advocacy. The association has continued to reach out to youth with the implementation of the Too Good for Drugs program for area 4th graders, and No Fear Future Clubs in local middle and high schools.
Because people suffering from mental illness are at increased risk of homelessness, the agency sought to provide safe, affordable housing through the construction of YOUnity House, YOUnity Village, and Liberty Village. The apartments provide permanent, supportive housing for qualified applicants. MHAWCI continues it’s mission through community education, offering suicide prevention training, facilitating the Vigo County Suicide Prevention Coalition and Mental Health First Aid training.
The Pharmaceutical Assistance program offers individuals with incomes ranging from very low to zero income help in securing their mental health medications.
MHAWCI continues to thrive and have many partnerships with organizations. Our commitment to consumers guides our programs and services as much today as it did in 1950.