In the 2013 edition of The Associated Press stylebook, a new entry on mental illness advises journalists to avoid “descriptions that connote pity,” like afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Pity is a passive emotion, encircled in a closed loop, offering few solutions. At Bridge House, a voluntary drop-in center for adults living with persistent mental illness in the Greater Bridgeport area, the people who use the services there are not victims of mental illness. Nor are they patients or clients, other terms often used in the mental health-services world. Rather, the people who access services at Bridge House are called members. These choices in language reflect the larger philosophy that undergirds the work that Bridge House does.
“We focus on a person’s wellness, not their illness,” says Glen Carpenter, a member who led a recent tour of the facility. “This is a place that you can come to and there’s no failure.”
Located in a sprawling Victorian house on Bridgeport’s Fairfield Avenue, Bridge House provides meals, housing support, advocacy, employment assistance and a young-adult program for those living with mental illness in an avowedly nonclinical setting. Bridge House operates on what is known as the “Clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation,” and broadly speaking, works to integrate those living with chronic or persistent mental illness into the larger community through a battery of support services. Bridge House attacks the task of community integration with a holistic methodology that helps the organization’s roughly 240 active members develop employment, money-management and socialization skills. Because the program is completely voluntary, members come and go as they please, and on any given day, between 50 and 80 members will come through the door to access various services.