History & The Bell Story

  • MHA History

    For decades, the two MHA affiliates have served the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, helping people obtain the mental health and substance abuse services they need. The organizations began exploring a possible “merger” in the Fall of 2011 when they produced a joint fundraiser that they called “Remove The Mask” which encouraged people to talk about mental health and related issues. Garnering success with the event, the organizations continued discussions and completed the merger on June 29th, 2012.

    Specifics About Northern Kentucky: Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, formerly Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky, and formerly the Mental Health Association of Northern Kentucky, was founded officially in July of 1954. At that time there were no clinics, or centers and private psychiatrists were very few. Most treatment was provided at state hospitals for people with mental illness. During the early 50 ’ s Dr. Charles Baron, a physician practicing in NKY, became interested and committed to the notion that we can better meet the needs of individuals with mental illness. At the same time the State of Kentucky was also looking for ways to better meet the needs of this population, especially in the community.

    When the Association was formally organized in 1954, they received support from the State to place a psychiatric social worker in Northern Kentucky. The arrangement was that the Association would provide the space and support while the State paid for the social worker. Thus the first State funded community based service for mental health services was provided in the region at an office secured by the Association at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Covington. The Social Worker assigned to this region was Catherine Katie Bottorff. While paid by the State, the Association recognizes her as the first Executive Director of the Association.

    In 1957, a new member joined the Board of Directors who happened to be the Minister of the Fort Mitchell Baptist Church. He had tremendous drive and commitment to mental health, and quickly became a leader not just for the Association but the community as a whole. Rev. Clarence Lassetter served as the Association Board Chair in the early 60’s and he chaired and served on numerous committees that served to create the region’s first community mental health center; Comprehensive Care, now known as NorthKey Community Care. After the Comprehensive Care was formed and a formal organization was now established to provide a range of community based services, the Association needed to change its’ focus and determine the specific direction to move forward. In 1970 the Board chose Catherine Kunkel Mains to become the new Executive Director. She was charged with helping define the new direction of the agency. She served as Director from 1970 to 1979 and now works for the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

    By this time the agency was clearly committed to being one focusing on education, training, advocacy, working with volunteers, and other supportive services. By the 80’s programs such as Exodus jail visitation, Magic Circle, volunteer trainings and community education days were regular events. The agency also began to more directly assist those in need by providing case management, or advocate services. Advocate is and remains today one key activity area. In the early 80’s some community members with a keen interest in this area first came to serve this agency on the Board.

    Moving into the 90’s saw many changes and advancements. The Mental Health Association of Northern Kentucky became an affiliate of the National Mental Health Association and began partnering with them on many national initiatives. Many of the programs continued to grow and develop as the Association continued to better define itself and improve service delivery. One way was to secure a home -- a location from which to operate. The Association tended to move around a bit between Covington and Newport throughout its existence. In the early 90’s it moved to 605 Madison Ave., renting most of the building. By 1994 the Association was able to purchase the building and has been offering services from there since. The Recovery Network, the consumer run support program, since June of 2003 uses that building exclusively. Other MHA programs and services are now on the 3rd floor at 513 Madison Ave leased from NorthKey Community Care.

    Programs and services include, the annual Christmas Day Dinner event which served a few dozen clients Christmas Day 1987 and now serves anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500. A key activity that has occurred from the beginning has been community education. One reason for our current success in Education and Screenings has been a close partnership with Northern Kentucky University and faculty from a variety of disciplines: Psychology, Nursing, and Social Work. The basis for our advancements was the development of the Stigma Fighter research based education materials, authored by Dr. Perilou Goddard from NKU and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

    Other key services have been developed to meet "community service gap" needs. We now provide assistance to individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders with budgeting, filing for disability, DUI education and recovery guidance. Providing referrals to appropriate treatment and support services has become our expertise.

    In 2006 our national leadership, the National Mental Health Association, became Mental Health America. As an affiliate, our Association adopted the name Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky.

  • The Bell Story

    The Bell Story‚ÄčThe Story of Our Symbol - The Mental Health Bell
    Cast from shackles which bound them, this bell shall ring out hope for the mentally ill and victory over mental illness. 
    —Inscription on Mental Health Bell 

    During the early days of mental health treatment, asylums often restrained people who had mental illnesses with iron chains and shackles around their ankles and wrists. With better understanding and treatments, this cruel practice eventually stopped. 

    In the early 1950s, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. On April 13, 1956, at the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Md., Mental Health America melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into a sign of hope: the Mental Health Bell. 

    Now the symbol of Mental Health America, the 300-pound Bell serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses. Today, the Mental Health Bell rings out hope for improving mental health and achieving victory over mental illnesses. 

    Over the years, national mental health leaders and other prominent individuals have rung the Bell to mark the continued progress in the fight for victory over mental illness.