Project 25 gaining acclaim for a unique approach to treating mental illness and substance abuse


New City – Almost a month since its introduction in Mid-May, the Rockland Independent Living Center’s Project 25 is already showing promise in raising awareness of the unique challenges faced by those living with mental illness and substance abuse problems and presenting solutions for people with such problems.

The program, which began in May, aims to present such issues in a comprehensive manner by addressing not only the medical aspects of substance abuse and mental illness but also the secondary health risks and the treatment of the individual overall rather than just one condition. Its name comes from a statistic stating that those with mental health and substance abuse issues die 25 years younger than those who do not, on average.

“It’s about living longer, healthier lives for people who are challenged with mental health and substance abuse,” RILC Director of Mental Health and Recovery Services Andy Kohlbrenner explained.

Kohlbrenner contrasted the holistic approach with previous models which focused almost exclusively on medication and often neglected community, health, and goal-oriented aspects of recovery. Instead, Project 25 seeks to incorporate not only traditional treatments but also physical health and community involvement.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, how about looking about a whole person and looking at engaging people in life in a healthy way where they can participate in life like anyone else?’” Kohlbrenner explained. “We want people to think about their overall health and overall wellness.”

The screening and distribution of Project 25’s documentary “Heart and Soul,” which premiered in March at Levity Live in the Palisades Mall, functions as the centerpiece of the initiative. The documentary features testimony from others who overcame issues with substance abuse and mental illness, including former radio announcer and recovering drug addict Ted “The Golden Voice” Williams, who spent years homeless until being rediscovered for his unique, radio-friendly voice and going into recovery.

The program is also working to develop a “seminar in a box” which includes the “Heart and Soul” DVD, workbooks, a seminar guide, posters and bracelets. A phone app and other tools to improve quality of life for those with mental health and substance abuse issues are also in the works.

Outreach continues for Project 25, including not only slots at film festivals but also negotiations with managed care groups and pharmaceutical companies who might wish to endorse the group’s message. “Heart and Soul” has already received significant acclaim from the mental health and addiction recovery communities, including a slot at the NYC Mental Health Film Festival in early May, a nomination for a SAMHSA Voice Award and possible screenings at film festivals in locations as varied as Dallas and Scotland.