A mental breakdown led him to create this mental health center for Los Angeles

When he suffered a mental breakdown at the age of 62, Rex Wilder quickly realized how difficult the mental health system was to navigate and how dangerous it was for someone in his precarious position.

Made possible by a $1.5 million donation from Wilder and his mother, Judy Briskin, the new Briskin | Wilder (BWWC) – both a program and a venue – has just been launched to help anybody in Los Angeles who is going through a mental health issue or a crisis and doesn’t know where to turn.

As the world of health and wellness strives to de-stigmatize mental illness, it’s projects and stories like these that will help us make real progress.

Learn more about Wilder’s journey and what the Briskin|Wilder Visitor Center is all about in our interview below. If you know someone in Los Angeles who is struggling with a mental health issue, consider raising awareness of the Center’s services and mission.

Congratulations on the launch of the Center. Can you tell us in a few words who the center is for?

BWWC is for all Angelenos. Mental disorders generally go untreated in low-income communities and strike people who live in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles at disproportionate rates. Even those who can afford to seek help often don’t get the help they need to navigate the convoluted mental health system. Although I had the means and the connections to get help, the system was labyrinthine and frustrating, and its shortcomings put my life at risk.

Most of us don’t know where to turn for mental health care, we hope to close that gap. We offer free personalized counseling by licensed practitioners who help those in need navigate the overwhelming and complex mental health care system to ensure that all Angelenos find appropriate and affordable quality mental health care, whether either with Maple Counseling, a virtual center of highly trained therapists and support groups we are affiliated with an outside agency or support system.

What services does BWWC offer?

Think of us as an expert case manager or mental health concierge. You had the courage to ask for help — we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that you receive it. Whether it’s Maple Counseling or an outside agency, we’ll introduce you to your new therapist as soon as possible.

What is the model? Are there other centers in the country that have inspired your work?

Three models inspired by BWWC:

+ One was the Breast Center at Cedars-Sinai. I met them years ago when I was working in breast cancer. They highlighted the ease and effectiveness of getting help when you’ve been diagnosed. I’m not 100% sure if they actually looked after you medically, but they certainly did mentally and spiritually. They knew how to put a person at ease in what was often one of the scariest times in their life. Not to mention the confusion: they would help you find care, really relieve you of the burden.

+ A second model was PCH, the psychological care and healing treatment center in Venice. I know what I’m talking about here. Four or five months after a severe psychological breakdown that saw me locked up in Resnick Hospital twice, I was still seeking what they called partial hospitalization. My mother and I spent months looking for the right place to get treatment, and we went from one “inappropriate” place to another. One place looked like a zombie country club…scary. Glassy eyes, musty smell, as if it were a cure for eternal rest. Anyway, I was at the end of our rope – almost literally.

Then, more by chance than anything else, we made an appointment at PCH and the rest is history. Happy story. We were greeted by a group of associates who really got into it. They were smart, empathetic, experienced and dedicated to finding solutions for their clients. Just like we do at Briskin|Wilder, I came to seek help; I have hope.

+ The third model is my circle of family and friends. Not everyone has people to help them who want to help them. But in a just society, everyone needs this 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 as needed all around me, and it turned out to be such a gift. To myself, and ideally to others.

It took over two months after leaving the hospital before I received my first therapy. Anytime trying to navigate the system I could have died. Thinking about it now, that seems like a stretch, but it couldn’t have been truer back then. I needed every little help I received. Fortunately, I had means and connections. For so many people without any means or connection, often facing loneliness and language barriers, things are much more complicated. And too often tragic.

mental disorders strike people who live in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles at disproportionate rates. How do you hope the center will serve these communities?

We want to make sure that everyone who can use mental health services at any level of severity gets them. Period. Whatever the barriers to entry, we want to break them down. Welcome everyone!

How would you advise someone with a loved one who has a mental health problem to approach the centre?

Simple. Call us. Email us. Click the link on our website. Trust me, we’ll do the heavy lifting. You don’t need a manual to get started!

Do you have any advice on the best and kindest language for concerned family members or friends to use with loved ones as well?

You said it: caring language, backed by caring motives, can go a long way in making a loved one realize they need help and should/can ask for 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 this first step less daunting.

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