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…living a legacy to lead mental health reform

MHA is one of Los Angeles County’s oldest nonprofit mental health organizations. Over the past 80 years, we have created agencies to fill gaps in care, changed systems to be more responsive, and championed movements that gave a voice to people with mental illness and their families. We’ve promoted understanding about mental illness and advanced acceptance for people with this illness. We’ve protected rights and defended resources.

Creating Agencies

Over our history, we established four of Los Angeles County’s leading nonprofit mental health agencies. In 1924, we were founded as the Mental Hygiene Committee and started California’s first program dedicated to the needs of children with emotional disturbances, going strong today as the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic.

We started three more nonprofit agencies, beginning with the San Fernando Valley Child Guidance Clinic in the 1960s. In the 1980s, we established two programs for adults with mental illness. Step Up on Second Street, opened in 1984, was the first mental health rehabilitation-focused program to serve the county’s Westside. In 1986, we opened the first work training and employment program for people with mental illness in South Los Angeles, which grew into a range of rehabilitation services at Oasis House. Today, they are prospering, independent agencies.

Changing Systems

Our organization has been at the forefront of the major mental health reform movements of the past century. In the 1950s, MHAs across the nation led the fight to bring more humane care to people in state hospitals. In the 1960s, MHAs were leading advocates of the national community mental health center movement. In the early 1990s, we worked with advocates in our state to secure a stable funding base.

In the 1990s, our organization emerged as a national leader of “integrated services.” We opened our MHA Village in 1990 after California’s mental health department selected us to develop a new system built on an integrated services approach, which provides all the services and support people with mental illness need to lead lives of greater independence in the community.

By the end of the decade, the integrated services approach we pioneered was a model to help repair decades of decay to California’s mental health system. In 1999, California passed AB 34, state legislation to provide comprehensive care to combat homelessness and incarceration among people with mental illness. We were chosen to operate one of the largest AB 34 pilots and serve the system by tracking the effectiveness of all AB 34 projects across the state.

Campaigning for Awareness

Through our public education campaigns, MHA has helped advance awareness of mental health and acceptance of people with mental illness. In the 1980s, much of our work focused on youth. Our “Mental Health Youth Award” and “Circle of Friends” curricula were used in elementary and middle school classrooms across the nation. Since 1981, the “Expressing Feelings Through Art” contests and exhibits have encouraged high school youth to explore their emotions.

In the 1990s, we designed a campaign, “Mental Illness – The Way We Treat It Is Insane,” and directed the Los Angeles activities of the National Mental Health Association’s campaign to educate about depression.

Championing Movements

Since the 1980s, we’ve helped strengthen important segments of the mental health community. We’re proud to be an early promoter of “consumer empowerment,” an advocacy and service movement by and for people with mental illness. We have a long and rewarding history with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which brings together families of people with mental illness.

Coming Full Circle

Today, the well-being of young people is once again a focus. Our Transition Age Youth programs reach out to coming-of-age young people who have mental illness. We sponsor Human Services Academies at two high schools to help low-income youth see college and careers as possibilities and human services work as worthwhile.

Continuing a Legacy

Our founders left us a legacy to ensure equality, humane care and achievement for people with mental illness. Like our founders, we believe it takes all of us – citizens and clients, parents and professionals – working together. Just as others before us fought to abolish injustices of their days, we fight to abolish inequalities in funding, care, housing and jobs. Just as others ended the horrors of inhumane treatment in hospitals, we work to end the horrors of the harsh existence of homelessness. As others succeeded in moving care from hospital to community, we help people with mental illness have successes in their own lives.




Mental Health America of Los Angeles   Administration Offices
100 W.Broadway, Suite 5010   Long Beach, CA 90802-2310
888-242-2522, ext. 225    development@mhala.org

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