The Mental Health Association of West Florida, Inc. (MHAWFL) was established on November 15, 1957. The Association has a long and distinguished history of community service in Escambia and Santa Rosa couties in Florida. The MHAWFL was instrumental in the establishment of Favor House (domestic violence program), Friendship House, the Drug Abuse program and halfway house at Lakeview Center, the Help Line (24 hour crisis phone line) and the Rape Crisis program. Through its Alzheimer’s program, MHAWFL raised matching funds to build the first Alzheimer-specific Adult Day Care Center in the Pensacola area.
In 2002 MHAWFL partnered with the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities in Tallahassee and was able to establish the legal precedence for inmates in all of Florida’s county jails to have the right to access advocates, as well as call the 800 number for the Advocacy Center.
In 2004 MHAWFL partnered with local consumers, assisting them in implementing the Hand N’ Hand for Wellness volunteer and activity support group. Hand N’ Hand encourages active participation in community activities and volunteerism to facilitate integration and enhanced recovery. MHAWFL also assisted in developing the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) support group, as well as the Survivors of Suicide support group.
During 2004 and 2005 MHAWFL responded to the urgent cry for help in the community due to Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina, by providing brief crisis counseling, information, and referrals to hurricane survivors in four counties. In accomplishing this feat, the MHAWFL surged from a staff of three to over 100 people.
In 2006 MHAWFL responded to the local, State, and national outcry regarding the lack of humane treatment of mentally ill prison inmates. The MHAWFL began offering training to local correctional systems teaching “Crisis Response and Interventions for Mentally Ill Populations.” This program has been welcomed by the community and the corrections system alike.
2007 saw the addition of two Certified Peer Specialists (CPS) to the advocacy program at the MHAWFL. CPS’s are people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, received intensive training, and then passed a comprehensive national test. MHAWFL is the first agency in the state of Florida to have CPS’s working in the jails with mental health consumers. The goal of providing education and information to inmates and correctional officers is to reduce recidivism and to stop the use of county jails being used as psychiatric facilities.
MHAWFL is also the first agency in Florida that has been allowed to have a Mental Health Advocate providing services inside the jail to assist corrections officers in improving conditions for inmates with a mental illness.