Pictured: Co-Founders Helen Bergman and Maxine Harris
When Community Connections opened its doors in 1984, our mandate was to provide mental health services to consumers who were leaving institutional care. We focused on providing treatment for people who were diagnosed with major mental disorders and who needed help to regain skills lost after years of institutional care. What we quickly learned, however, that most of the people we were trying to assist were also experiencing problems with substance addiction. By the early 1980's, the use of crack cocaine had reached epidemic proportions in the District of Columbia. In an attempt to work with consumers who were struggling with both mental health concerns and addictions, we adjusted our clinical programming to include a full range of residential and outpatient services for dually diagnosed individuals.
Regretably, however, we saw that most of our consumers were triply compromised. Their dual disorders were complicated by struggles with homelessness. Many of the people we treated found themselves without shelter as their addictive disorders spiraled out of control. Once again, we expanded our clinical services to include outreach and residential programs specifically designed for homeless, dually diagnosed adults.
However, we were still not finished. As we strove to understand the dynamics that kept our consumers locked in the poverty, despair and disability, we heard stories of violence and victimization, sexual and physical abuse, that began in childhood and continued into the present. Among homeless, dually diagnosed women, we could hardly find a single individual who had not experienced and suffered from violent abuse. The prevalence rates for childhood and adult victimization approached 100%.
We developed specialized treatments for the survivors of sexual and physical abuse. The very symptoms we were treating as being solely the product of mental illness, substance addiction, or homelessness were, frequently, the long-term after effects of abuse. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, dissociative states, drug and alcohol addiction, and high-risk behavior have all been linked to sexual and physical abuse in childhood and adulthood. Between 50% and 70% of women hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, 40%-60% of those receiving outpatient services and 55%-99% of women substance abusers all report significant physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
Initially we heard the stories of women survivors, but eventually realized that sexual and physical abuse were not the province of women alone. Over 50% of the men we serve are also survivors of sexual or physical abuse.
By putting consumer needs first, we have kept Community Connections on the cutting edge of clinical care and treatment with national recognition for its clinical innovations. Sadly, Community Connections lost Helen Bergman, co-founder in the summer of 2011 when she died suddenly and unexpectedly. At each stage of our development, the clinical needs of our consumers have driven the expansion of clinical programs and housing. We remain proud of our accomplishments, and continue to look forward to providing further innovations in community mental health care.