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Postcards From The Pandemic: Finding Community In Isolation

Members of Magnolia Clubhouse say goodbye at the end of their Zoom meeting. The clubhouse hosts several scheduled video meetings a week, so members can connect while staying physically isolated. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]
Members of Magnolia Clubhouse say goodbye at the end of their Zoom meeting. The clubhouse hosts several scheduled meetings a week, so members can catch-up while in self-isolation.

When Governor Mike DeWine issued the  stay-at-home order in March, it hit just about everyone hard. But for people living with mental illness, like anxiety and depression, the order encouraged something they often struggle with: isolation.

Before closing its doors on March 16, Magnolia Clubhouse in University Circle offered people living with mental illness a way out of isolation, in the form of a community clubhouse — a lively gathering place and support system, run by its members. 

A member of Magnolia Clubhouse sips coffee in the cafe before the clubhouse closed in the wake of COVID-19. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Magnolia’s Executive Director Dr. Lori D’Angelo was forced to find new ways for members to stay connected beyond the physical walls of the clubhouse.

Preventing Self-Isolation Pre-Pandemic

Often when people are feeling ill from mental illness, they will stay distanced from others. And being isolated increases symptoms of mental illness. So it's like a vicious circle.

Magnolia Clubhouse is a club for people with mental illness. It’s a form of psychiatric rehabilitation that brings people together. People come to our club every day. On average, 70 people a day. It's a very vibrant, energetic, busy place and helps connect everyone to the larger community.

A typical morning meeting for members of Magnolia's culinary team ends with the chant, "Let's get cookin'!" Meetings like this have moved online since the clubhouse closed its physical location. Members of the team are now posting recipes on Magnolia's Facebook page. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

Before it closed its doors, Magnolia produced a daily news show in its on-site studio, but has begun sharing remote productions on Magnolia's Facebook page. [Mary Fecteau/ideastream]  

Coming to Terms with Closing

Before the governor directed the schools to be closed, my first reaction was we wouldn't close. But then as soon as the order was to close the schools and it became clear that the science was saying this is really necessary for everyone's best interests, then we quickly made the decision that this was in the best interest of the clubhouse as well. 

I think all of our concern was that people might start to struggle more and more with the symptoms of their illness.

Magnolia Clubhouse typically operates in University Circle in two turn-of-the-century homes. Aside from a few staff members, the clubhouse has been empty since March 16. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

Creating a Virtual Clubhouse

Because we have this community and the relationships, we've been reaching out to all of the members by phone and by technology. So we've been utilizing social media and video conferencing to have meetings like we have in the clubhouse. 

The first two have been over 50 people. People were just sharing their good wishes and connecting. We were focusing on what kinds of tools people are using to help themselves feel good at this time, and keeping it lighthearted, but also dealing with people's concerns.  

For me personally, seeing people and hearing them, and watching people react to each other was just what we get every day in our programs.

Magnolia's Executive Director Dr. Lori D'Angelo on Zoom. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]

The Most Positive Outcome: Empathy

This pandemic sort of highlights some of the shared human issues that we're all struggling with.

Everyone’s struggling with isolation and sometimes not having as much purpose, which is also true for many people that live with mental illness. And I think the most positive outcome that's possible in the bigger picture is that more people may be more understanding of mental illness.