Buckelew Programs helps people with behavioral health challenges lead healthier, more independent lives, strengthening families and communities in the process. Our wide range of services for adults and children in the North Bay includes supported housing and employment for people living with mental illness, family support, outpatient counseling, substance use treatment, outreach, education, and suicide prevention. We tailor our treatment and support services to the unique needs of each individual, encouraging the active collaboration of loved ones and other supporters.
The Peer Movement – Reducing Stigma and Bridging the Gap in Mental Health Care
The role of peers in the mental health field is often understated and not fully understood, yet the value they bring to the clients and their families is undeniable. Emily is a case worker II for Buckelew Programs’ Marin Assisted Independent Living housing program. She started her career at the agency as a peer mentor and in her role today, she still brings the rare element of lived experience to the clients she serves.
“When you are first diagnosed with a severe mental illness,” she says, “The message you receive is that you are not capable of taking care of yourself; your voice is essentially taken away. No one tells you that recovery is possible. Our job as peers is to demonstrate that recovery is possible. We are there to inspire and provide unconditional positive regard and hope.”
Emily describes life before college ‘normal.’ It wasn’t until her sophomore year, after dealing with a quick succession of traumatic events, that she experienced an indication of what would eventually be diagnosed as a mental illness.
“At the time, I couldn’t conceive that this was actually the beginning of a lifetime journey,” she says “I thought I was just overwhelmed with school and what was going on in my personal life at that time.”
Emily was determined to regain focus – she left her sorority and eliminated all distractions, making her academics a priority. Her grades improved and future plans and dreams were back on track.
“Then, the end of my senior year, I started falling apart,” she says. “Thank goodness I made it to graduation.” Very soon after earning her degree, Emily experienced her first significant mental breakdown.
“I didn’t black out,” she says. “I remember everything. It is extremely scary to not be in control of your own mind. It’s like an internal break – your brain is hijacked.”
Emily was diagnosed and treated. A more severe second breakdown at age 24 resulted in an extended stay at a local private psychodynamic treatment center. Emily graduated from the treatment program and started a new job. A third subsequent breakdown finally forced a move in a different direction. She left her position and was granted disability.
“When you’re mentally ill, it’s very much like being benched or sidelined from life. Many people acted like I was contagious. Nothing feels as isolating. My driving force to recover was to have friends and relationships again.”
The Sonoma Department of Rehab connected Emily to Buckelew Programs for vocational experience. “I worked at the reception desk,” she said. “The staff knew I was a client, but they treated me like I was one of them.”
“I always knew I wanted to work and I was very clear about wanting to work in the mental health field. I knew I had something valuable to contribute even then, but I wasn’t sure about what it was.”
Then a peer mentor position opened at the agency and Emily was brought on part-time. She exceled in her role, grew into a full-time position and eventually succeeded in withdrawing from disability entirely, becoming fully independent. Today, eight years later, Emily does not hesitate to disclose her mental illness to her clients.
“Peers bring lived experience and a totally different approach to the client,” she says. “I bridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I understand their suffering because I’ve been in their shoes.”
“My goal is to normalize mental illness,” she says. ”Because there is no shame. And I am living proof that recovery is possible.”
Founded in Marin County in 1970, today Buckelew Programs encompasses a combined 137 years of experience serving the North Bay, including the rich history of Family Service Agency of Marin and Helen Vine Recovery Center, two critical Marin resources that merged with Buckelew Programs in recent years.
Some highlights of our combined history:
- 1970: Buckelew Programs is founded as Buckelew Farms, Marin’s first community-based 24-hour facility serving local residents with a mental illness. The name came from Thomas Buckelew, an early settler and Spanish land grantee where the house was located.
- 1975: Buckelew begins a long period of significant expansion in developing supported housing in Marin County.
- 1986: Buckelew Employment Services (BES) begins to provide vocational counseling and job training to clients, later expanding to include evidence-based supported employment and social enterprises.
- 1994: Buckelew expands services to Napa County.
- 1999: Buckelew expands services to Sonoma County.
- 2011: Buckelew adds The Helen Vine Recovery Center to its continuum of services.
- 2012: FSA Marin merges with Buckelew Programs. The merger creates the leading behavioral health organization in the North Bay, providing a full, integrated continuum of mental health and addiction treatment for people across their entire lifespan, from early childhood through aging services, and across the range of needs from serious mental illness to life transitions and personal growth.
- 2017: Helen Vine Recovery Center breaks ground to build a new facility down the street from its current location.