Ken Knowles was at the top of his class at Eastern Michigan University in 1977, on his way to earning a degree in social work.
Everything changed in 1982, when he was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder, which affects his thoughts and moods. Today, the 56-year-old lives with his sister in Farmington Hills and is trying to find work, with resources available to him through Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority (OCCMHA). He is a regular at the Community Network Services (CNS) Our House Clubhouse in Walled Lake.
"I eat better. I have friends. I attend employment groups," Knowles said, adding he is also learning about doing janitorial work, which he enjoys.
Deberah Giles, a licensed social worker who supervises the clubhouse, said the employment program gives folks like Ken the opportunity to experience the kinds of work placements they might have had as young people, had mental illness not interrupted their lives.
"When you have onset of a major mental illness, you lose that part of your life," Giles said.
Program members work with an employment specialist, they fill out job applications and work on their resumes. The clubhouse provides transportation, which Giles said is one of their biggest challenges, as people served live as far away as White Lake, South Lyon, Waterford and the Farmington-Farmington Hills area.
Even though Knowles isn't working now, he has duties around the Clubhouse, as all members do in their "work-ordered day", he said. He helps with counting money in the snack shop and with general clean-up. The Clubhouse is also home to a few animals that the members tend.
What would Ken be doing if he didn't have the Clubhouse?
"I don't know, probably be at home, sitting around," he said. "It keeps me busy."
OCCMHA is observing Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13, established in 1990 to end the stigma surrounding mental illness by learning facts and ending myths. Tuesday has been designated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness as The National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding.
To learn more about mental illness support, education, and advocacy, visit occmha.org or find OCCMHA on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.