When he suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 62, Rex Wilder quickly realized just how difficult the mental healthcare system was to navigate and how dangerous that felt to someone in his precarious position.
Made possible by a $1.5 million gift from Wilder and his mother, Judy Briskin, the new Briskin|Wilder Welcome Center (BWWC) – both a program and a place — has just launched to assist anyone in Los Angeles who is navigating a mental health condition or crisis and doesn’t know where to turn.
As the health and wellness world works to de-stigmatize mental illness, it’s projects and stories like these that will help us make real headway.
Learn more about Wilder’s journey and what the Briskin|Wilder Welcome Center is all about in our interview below. If you know someone in Los Angeles who is struggling with a mental health concern, consider spreading the word about the Center’s services and mission.
Congratulations on the launch of the Center. Can you tell us in brief who the center is for?
BWWC is for all Angelenos. Mental disorders mostly go untreated in low-income communities, and befall people who live in L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods at disproportionate rates. Even those who have the means to seek support often don’t get the help they need navigating the convoluted mental healthcare system. Although I had the means and connections to get help, the system was labyrinthian and frustrating, and its inadequacies put my life in jeopardy.
Most of us don’t know where to turn for mental health care, we’re hoping to bridge that gap. We offer free personalized guidance by licensed practitioners who help people in need navigate the overwhelming and complex mental health care system to ensure all Angelenos find appropriate and affordable quality mental health care, whether with Maple Counseling, a virtual center of highly qualified therapists and support groups we’re affiliated with or an outside agency or support system.
What services does the BWWC offer?
Think of us as an expert case manager, or a mental health concierge. You have been brave enough to seek help — we feel it is our responsibility to make sure you receive it. Whether Maple Counseling or an outside agency, we’ll introduce you to your new therapist as quickly as possible.
What is the model? Are there other centers around the country that inspired your work?
Three models inspired BWWC:
+ One was the Breast Center at Cedars-Sinai. I became acquainted with them years ago when I worked in the breast cancer field. They emphasized the ease and effectiveness of getting help when you received a diagnosis. I’m not 100% sure whether they actually cared for you from a medical standpoint, but they certainly did from a mental and a spiritual standpoint. They knew how to put a person at ease at what was often one of the scariest times in their life. Not to mention confusing: they would help you find care, really take the burden off of you.
+ A second model was PCH, the Psychological Care and Healing treatment center in Venice. I know whereof I speak here. Four or five months into a serious psychological breakdown that saw me locked up at the Resnick hospital twice, I was still looking for what they called Partial Hospitalization. My mom and I spent months looking for the right place to get treatment, and bounced from one “inappropriate” place to another. One spot looked like a zombie country club…scary. Glazed eyes, musty smell, like it was an eternal rest cure. Anyway, I was at the end of our rope — almost literally.
Then, more by luck than anything else, we made an appointment at PCH and the rest was history. Happy history. We were met by a group of associates who really had it going on. They were smart, empathetic, experienced, and dedicated to finding solutions for their clients. Just like we do at the Briskin|Wilder Welcome Center, I came for help; I got hope.
+ The third model is my circle of family and friends. Not everyone has people to help them and who want to help them. But in a fair society, everyone needs to have that kind of human safety net.
Your own mental breakdown inspired the founding of this center. Can you talk a bit about that?
My mental breakdown woke me up to the need all around me, and it turned out to be such a gift. To myself, and ideally to others.
It took more than two months after leaving the hospital before I received my first therapy. At any point trying to navigate the system, I could have died. Thinking about that now, it sounds overwrought, but it couldn’t have been more true at the time. I needed every bit of assistance that I received. Luckily, I had means and connections. For so many without any means or connections, often challenged by loneliness and language barriers, things are far more complicated. And too often tragic.
mental disorders befall people who live in L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods at disproportionate rates. How do you hope the center serves these communities?
We want to make sure that anyone and everyone who can use mental health services at any degree of seriousness gets them. Period. Whatever the barriers to entry, we want to knock them down. Welcome, everyone!
How would you advise someone who has a loved one with a mental health issue to engage with the center?
Simple. Call us. Email us. Click on the link on our website. Believe me, we’ll do the heavy lifting. You don’t need a manual to get started!
Do you have any advice on the best, kindest language for concerned family members or friends to use with their loved ones as well?
You said it: kind language, backed by kind motives, can go a long way towards nudging a loved one towards the realization that they need help and should/can seek it. We hope that the existence of the Briskin|Wilder Welcome Center, both as a program and as a place, can make the prospect of that first step less daunting