Wellmet House

Stephen DunlopIn the summer of 1965, I returned to Harvard from a leave I had taken during the second semester of my junior year. I had taken the leave because I was having a hard time in school and had lost track of why I was there. Looked at from my present perspective, I think I was depressed in a clinical sense. During my leave, I worked for the National Council of Churches’ Delta Ministry in Greenville, Mississippi. The work had a salutary effect on me, giving me a new sense of purpose. I found I liked working with people and decided that with my abilities in science, medicine would be a suitable career.

I was forced to return to school when I did, because my draft board would not give me a deferment to fight for social justice in the American South during a war to stop communism in Vietnam. In the fall, I needed a place to stay and heard about Wellmet House, then a project of PBH but now independent. The house had students on the third floor, former state hospital patients on the second floor, a house manager and cook who, as I recall, lived on the first floor.

The concept was to get patients out of the state hospital institutional environment as a transition to the community. It was very successful in stabilizing people outside the hospital, but at that time not successful in moving them to the community on their own.

All the students contributed to the upkeep of the house and spent a lot of time with the residents and each other. It gave context to going to school from the larger world, and we had a lot of fun.

Fortunately for me, my academic requirements were light as I had completed my pre-med work, or I might have found it too consuming. I very much enjoyed my time at Wellmet, and I am sure it played a role in my later decision to go into psychiatry. I even returned to Wellmet again when I did an elective rotation at HMS while a medical student at Washington University. At that time I was able to assist in getting one resident on medication, helping him communicate and work with the staff. Wellmet was and is a living laboratory on the complexity of social, psychological, and biological features of living with mental illness that is well worth participating in.