The upcoming 60th anniversary celebration for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center provides a good reminder of how much this agency and the services it provides have meant — and continue to mean — to Douglas County.
The Bert Nash Center, which got its start as a clinic at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, is the third oldest mental health center in the state. Its founders apparently were ahead of their time in recognizing the need for mental health services, but even they probably didn’t imagine how significant the center’s contribution to Lawrence and the surrounding area would become.
During its first three decades, the Bert Nash center’s staff, budget and client numbers grew steadily, but in the last 20-25 years, demand for its services has grown exponentially. During that time, many state-operated facilities have closed and more people with mental health issues have been transferred to community-based services like Bert Nash. The center served just under 700 clients in 1981. By 1990, that number had almost tripled. By 2009, it had almost tripled again.
The shift to community services accounts for much of that increase, but Bert Nash also has done a good job of expanding its services and outreach to a broader group of clients. In a society that hesitates to acknowledge or seek help for mental health issues, the center has worked hard to ease the stigma and make its services affordable and accessible to everyone in Douglas County. No one is denied services because of an inability to pay.
A hard-working staff is supported by equally dedicated community volunteers who serve on the center’s board of directors and its endowment trustees. Recent cuts in government funding have caused some program reductions but haven’t deterred the center from its community mission.
One in four American adults will have a diagnosable mental health disorder during the next year. During the last 60 years, the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center has worked hard to raise mental health awareness and help people understand that mental health treatment on a short-term or ongoing basis is no less important than treatment for physical ailments.
The reputation and visibility of the Bert Nash center in Lawrence makes it more likely that people will seek help for mental health issues. People who once believed they had to suffer in silence now are getting the message that help is available.
That’s a huge gift not only to the individuals Bert Nash serves but to the Lawrence community as a whole.