Daniel's Place Fights Against Mental Illness

Here's a question I never in my lifetime thought I would be addressing. What do Britney Spears, my little brother, and almost half of the United States have in common? They are all battling what can be inevitably defined as some sort of mental illness.

It was shockingly effortless and natural for America to lounge around and watch 26-year-old pop and media sensation Britney Spears unravel in the public eye, being placed from one psychiatric emergency hold to the next. We giggled, and gossiped, and judged while a young woman's struggles were placed in the spotlight. All we could say and feel at the time was, now that's entertainment.

It's not so easy to swallow when it is a member of your very own family. The little brother you played catch with. The little brother you read bedtime stories to. The little brother that you love.

An individual who is a danger to him or herself, a danger to others, or gravely disabled is placed on a 72-hour mental health hold, a California law often called a 5150. When my 22-year-old brother, was placed on this emergency psychiatric hold, it was no longer a two bit sideshow. It was our life. This was not the first time, but I pray every day that it is the last. I needed to know that I was not alone. There was the Britney Spears' case, but it was not enough. I burned with questions and a desire to find once and for all where someone could go in Southern California to seek help for young people experiencing debilitating forms of mental illness.

My prayers were answered almost instantaneously. Leading a quest for a place with answers, I found nothing short of a local miracle, Daniel's Place.

Founded in 1998, Daniel's Place is a program of Step Up on Second, a nationally recognized Santa Monica recovery center for individuals middle age or older who have chronic mental illness. But Daniel's Place itself is something even more specialized in the fight against mental illness. It provides constant care, support, and education to not only young people from 18-28 years-old suffering from issues relating to mental health, but to their families as well.

Next thing I knew, I found myself eating a greasy grilled cheese sandwich at an even greasier local Venice burger joint, across from Wayne Bauer. Bauer has been working at Daniel's Place, which is located in Santa Monica, for six years. Despite his friendly eyes and undeniably charismatic, intelligent, and articulate demeanor, I was still skeptical that from behind his soggy egg breakfast he was going to answer my burning questions and desires surrounding my brother's overwhelming mental health issues.

As if he had read my mind, without knowing a thing about my personal troubles he said, "It is just really hard on the families. Parents bring their kids in and the parents have no idea what to do. I mean, they're just blown away. They literally just don't know what happened to them."

Over the last 10 years, Daniel's Place has become a home away from home for many Southern California young adults struggling with mental illnesses and pursuing recovery. It is sure to provide support and hope, catering to a taboo illness that still to this day carries a constant social stigma and elicits a noticeable drought of compassion. Bauer says, "The 'C' word isn't the worst word you can hear. The 'S' word is the worst. When you get cancer, people can't do enough to help you. When you get schizophrenia, everybody runs. So I think it's very important to have compassion."

As many as three-quarters of the young people that Bauer works with at Daniel's Place are diagnosed schizophrenics. "Some of them have very, very detailed delusions, and they have this whole fantasy world worked up with monsters in it. They're not evaluating life like we are. Schizophrenia causes a filtering problem. They're filtering the wrong way."

Daniel's Place was funded originally by Arthur Greenberg, a founding partner of the Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker, and his wife, Audrey. The program itself was named after their son, Daniel, a healthy boy that loved to play football, and studied acting. Daniel, like most people who experience mental health issues throughout their life, had his first psychotic outbreak as a young adult while attending college at Princeton University. Through his family's support, treatment, and medication, he went on to graduate from Princeton and spent several years first as a client, and then as a caseworker and outreach worker at Step Up on Second.

What happened next was every family member's worst nightmare. Daniel continued to fight with his mental illness and his personal battle ultimately ended in his suicide in 1997. "He blew himself up with a fire bomb in his car. Burned to death right in front of his mother and father," Bauer said with a severe sadness behind those friendly eyes I had so quickly become accustomed to.

In finding his niche through becoming the service coordinator and primary case manager for Daniel's Place, Bauer has come an impressive and distant way from getting his law degree from The People's College of Law, a progressive law school in Los Angeles. When asked how he can possibly shake the hard work and emotional toil at the end of the day he says, "The thing that helps me most in this line of business is Buddhism. I meditate at the end of every night, do some Buddhist chanting."

Bauer has dedicated every day for the last six years, fighting for and amongst these young adults that seek refuge in Daniel's Place. "We all have this great potential, but we can't take are of each other," Bauer says with a resounding Dalai Lama-like presence from behind his bacon. "It's a dark world you know. I love the job. I mean, at the end of the day, I really try to help people. I never come home and say I've had a bad day anymore."