History and Mission
The mission of The Mental Health Association of Westchester County, Inc. (MHA) is to promote mental health in Westchester through advocacy, community education and direct services.
MHA offers a range of treatment and support services that are person-centered, recovery-oriented, and individualized to promote recovery and wellness. MHA reaches out to families and individuals by providing services in their homes, nursing homes, homeless shelters and other community sites.
Responding to community needs, particularly the needs of returning World War II veterans and school children who were exhibiting serious behavioral problems, MHA was founded in 1946 with a goal of establishing the County’s first outpatient mental health clinics. Since then, MHA has been the premier advocate for mental health in the community, serving as a front-line resource for children, adults and families experiencing emotional disturbances and mental illnesses.
Cast From Shackles- The Mental Health Bell
The Mental Health Association of Westchester is an affiliate of Mental Health America, the country's first and now largest nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the mental health of all Americans, particularly the 54 million individuals who have diagnosable mental illnesses. Mental Health America was established in 1909 by a former psychiatric patient, Clifford W. Beers. While in public and private institutions, Mr. Beers witnessed and was subjected to horrible abuse – abuse that propelled him to launch a powerful movement to reform the mental health service system in the United States. Even as MHA of Westchester continues the work of advocating for and implementing practices that improve the lives of individuals who have mental illnesses, we remember the roots of this movement – so poignantly illustrated in the story of the Mental Health Bell: At the behest of Mental Health America, iron chains and shackles that once bound the wrists and ankles of psychiatric patients across the United States, were melted and re-formed into a symbol of hope and freedom: the Mental Health Bell. The 300 pound bell remains a powerful reminder of the great strides that have occurred in the care of those who have mental illnesses. True to its inscription, “Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness” the bell has been rung on occasion to mark significant achievements in the work to improve lives.
Pioneers: Westchester Firsts
- MHA successfully advocated for the first outpatient mental health clinics in the County to address the needs of returning World War II veterans.
- 1956: MHA opened the first halfway house in Westchester for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.
- 1956: MHA also opened Westchester’s first social clubhouse for individuals with serious mental illnesses. This later became the Sterling Club, which today provides comprehensive services to approximately 140 members annually.
- MHA was the first mental health agency in Westchester to provide mental health services for homeless people.
- 1977, MHA and the Child Care Council of Westchester established the Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect, working to coordinate and improve services. The Task Force continues its work today.
- 1978: In response to public scrutiny of nursing home care in the 1970's, MHA launched Westchester’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP), which the agency still operates. LTCOP trains and certifies volunteers to advocate for the rights, dignity and quality of care of residents in long-term care facilities, making more than 7,000 visits to residents each year.
- I986: MHA created the first sexual abuse prevention curriculum for Westchester schools. An updated version of it is still used today.
- I987: MHA created the Partners in Parenting program, which provides mobile clinical services to families at risk of child abuse.
- 1989: MHA provided established, and continues to operate, the first and only Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program in Westchester. CASA trains community volunteers to advocate for the best interest of children who are abused and neglected, or in foster care.
- 2005: The Center for Policy and Advocacy, operated jointly with MHA of New York City, won passage of the State’s Geriatric Mental Health Act, a national first.
- 2009: Launching Care Coordination, a ground-breaking, person-centered model of providing services to individuals who have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness and who have not demonstrated significant recovery through traditional case management. New York State Office of Mental Health selected MHA through a competitive RFP process to partner with the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health to provide this program.