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Yahara House revives connection for people with mental illness, fighting isolating effects of COVID-19

Published: Feb. 26, 2021 at 9:52 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 10:26 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - “What happens at Yahara House? I think magic happens at Yahara House.”

That’s how director Brad Schlough describes the multi-storied building on the corner of E Gorham and N Livingston Streets. A program of Journey Mental Health Center, the clubhouse offers activities for people with serious mental health issues, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

Doors had been closed to most people for much of the pandemic. But on Friday, members and staff came to lay the base for a snow sculpture. It was one of the first invitations to come back, according to Schlough.

“Walking back in the house was such a great feeling,” Brent Pasdo, a clubhouse member, said. “It was like I’m back home again.”

In pre-pandemic times, members and staff called each other “colleagues” while tending to all parts of the house. They welcomed guests at the reception desk, kept attendance records, ran social media accounts and prepared lunch in the cafe.

“It costs about 90 cents, and you’ll get some of the best food you’ll ever have,” Pasdo said.

“Everyone of us is expected to contribute here,” Schlough said. “It’s not just coming and hanging out. I think that the reciprocal expectation means a lot to people.”

But for some members COVID-19 has recreated the crises that brought them to the house in the first place, according to Schlough. He said, “It has meant more hospitalizations, unfortunately, probably more substance use for some people who were no longer relying on that.”

Pasdo shared, he has not felt so isolated during the pandemic (he moved in with his girlfriend, who he met at the Yahara House), but he could relate to how many other members are feeling now.

“Three years ago I was very, very unhappy,” he said. “There were suicide attempts, and I was a miserable person. Then I came here, and everything changed. It was like a rebirth of Brent Pasdo. Everything was better because I had a place to go that wasn’t at home because I was having trouble at home.”

Once the sculpture is built on Monday, Schlough said he will slowly bring back more and more members to the house.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and need help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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