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Andrew Smith was an avid sports fan. Always a contrarian, he rooted for the team his family wasn’t supporting. He had a quirky sense of humor, loved chatting on the phone, and taking long walks, often stopping for pizza.
When he died in 2011 at age 30, after struggling for years with schizophrenia, his family wanted to honor Andrew’s efforts to find his way in the world. Every year they gather with family members and friends to walk Andrew’s favorite route near Davis Square where he lived. Now the Smith family—parents Kitty and Ed, brothers George and Ben, and sisters-in-law, Katie and Caitlin—have funded WellSpace, a new program for young people like Andrew.
WellSpace is a homey drop-in center for people ages 18 to 30 who have suffered their first psychotic episode and are early in treatment. Located in the newly expanded Admissions Building at McLean, patients can hang out and talk, watch a movie, charge their electronics, and participate in a growing number of groups and activities including yoga and mindfulness, art, writing, and game playing. At the weekly coffee hour, young people drop by to talk about what’s on their minds, while “Adulting 101” promotes independence with tutorials on financial planning, job searches, and school or training program applications. WellSpace’s users play a large—and growing—role in its offerings.
“Our goal was to create a place that encourages community among young people with similar issues,” explained Andrew’s brother, George. “We watched Andrew struggle to find his place in a variety of communities and wished he’d had a place like WellSpace.”
“Many young adults with psychiatric illnesses feel isolated,” said Hilary Bye, LICSW, WellSpace program director. “WellSpace provides a stigma-free place to talk about experiences, socialize with others, and learn things like how to manage symptoms.”
WellSpace is part of McLean’s Center of Excellence in Psychotic Disorders led by Center Chief Dost Öngür, MD, PhD. “The Smiths had a vision and they made it happen,” said Öngür. “WellSpace is a wonderful addition to McLean’s clinical programming and has become a welcoming and safe place for many young people.”
It has been a labor of love for the Smiths: Andrew’s sister-in-law Katie helped design the space and choose furnishings, and family and friends have made both financial contributions and in-kind donations of books, DVDs, and art supplies. Several dozen friends and family members gathered at WellSpace in late fall 2016 to celebrate the fruits of their labor and to remember Andrew. The event ended with, what else, a walk—this time around McLean’s grounds.