HPC Fellow: Deniz Kocas, Fountain House

Deniz Kocas is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with Fountain House. At Fountain House, Deniz worked in External Affairs, supporting the coordination of an international conference: Healthier Longer Lives for People with Serious Mental Illness. In her blog, Deniz reflects upon what it means to build community.

Tackling Disparities through Active Recovery
By: Deniz Kocas

Sitting in my Brooklyn living room on a sunny day in summer 2017, I typed “mental health organizations” into my laptop’s browser. I had just moved to New York after spending years in England, Belgium, and Turkey – I trained as a Pharmacist, completed a master’s degree in Health, Community, and Development at the London School of Economics, and worked several years in the pharmaceutical industry. Through this experience, I was able to gain a solid understanding of global health by advocating for access to medicine, but I always had a passion for mental health, which is why I decided to study for my MA in Psychology at The New School. I was eager to supplement my degree with practical work in an organization working in the field, and luckily, Fountain House popped up with a vacancy for someone exactly with my experience and skills.

Fountain House is committed to improving the lives of people with serious mental illness (SMI), a group that is often neglected, stigmatized, and discriminated against across the globe. Did you know that people with SMI die on average 10-25 years earlier than the general population? Fountain House tackles such disparities by taking an innovative approach where people with SMI become active participants in their own and others’ recovery. Alongside staff, Fountain House members operate employment, education, housing and wellness programs. Compared to other people with SMI, Fountain House members show higher rates of employment and education, and lower rates of homelessness, re-hospitalization, and incarceration.

My role at Fountain House has primarily been in External Affairs, supporting the coordination of an international conference: Healthier Longer Lives for People with Serious Mental Illness. This convening is hosted by Fountain House in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Global Mental Health at Columbia University Medical Center, Grand Challenges Canada, and citiesRISE, with technical support from WHO. World-renowned researchers, policy-makers, philanthropists, and civil society organizations dedicated to SMI will participate to raise awareness of the crisis of excess mortality and comorbidities among persons with SMI, to share innovative solutions that are improving and extending lives, and to establish commitments from participants to take action on implementing evidence-based best practices. This is only the beginning of the journey to improve the lives of people with SMI, and I am excited to witness the fruit of our efforts in the months and years to come following this conference.

What gives me more joy than the “external” work I am conducting as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, however, is watching the daily activities unfold at Fountain House. Seeing members come here and participate in productive work with staff, and observing how they are valued and cherished, reminds me every day of how essential it is to support one another and to be a community. To say that Fountain House is solely a “mental health organization” is a massive understatement. Fountain House not only helps people with SMI lead better lives, it reminds everyone of something that is often forgotten in metropolitan cities such as New York – the things that make us human: love, care, compassion, compromise, patience, and kindness.

About The Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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