Mandel School partners with Magnolia Clubhouse on research, recovery for those with mental health issues

Jessica Wojtalik Headshot

To many, the Magnolia Clubhouse is a high-end resale shop replete with upscale furniture, artwork and collectibles in a stately historic mansion amid institutions of higher education and arts and culture in University Circle.

But for others—those struggling with mental illness in Northeast Ohio—the Magnolia Clubhouse is a haven of friendship, employment, support and recovery.

Now, the Magnolia Clubhouse has a new partner in research: the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Jessica Wojtalik, assistant professor at the Mandel School, is leading an effort to bring the organizations closer together—building on past Mandel School partnerships—to conduct research on an approach that has become known as the “Clubhouse Model” to improve mental health.

“This is a reciprocal relationship,” she said. “We share the goal of helping people with a mental illness live a happy life, full of purpose.”

Magnolia, considered a pioneer in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation, provides its members opportunities for employment, housing, education and access to medical and psychiatric services in a caring and safe environment. Members and staff work alongside each other to operate the Clubhouse.

Mandel School researchers will assess functioning of the members and collect data measuring their satisfaction, quality of life, recovery and overall health. In other words, they will find out what’s working at Magnolia and why it is working so well.

“We like to understand why participation helps to improve social relationships and employment opportunities,” Wojtalik said. “When I came here for the first time, I saw people hustling and bustling. I thought to myself, ‘people are probably improving thinking skills, just from being here.’ That’s part of what we’ll be looking at. We want to work together to increase the evidence base of this model and ultimately expand and increase access to it.”

Building on a 60-year legacy

The organization that would later become Magnolia Clubhouse was founded in 1961, as in-patient, institutionalized mental health care fell out of favor and medication became the preferred treatment.

“This place fills a critical void in the area’s mental healthcare system,” said Magnolia Clubhouse Executive Director Lori D’Angelo. “The contributions of each member are vital to the organization.” 

Today, more than 70 members pass through Magnolia Clubhouse’s doors each day—463 total members in 2022—for activities that include working in the resale shop, cooking in the kitchen and producing content in the Clubhouse’s state-of-the-art media center.

“One of the first projects we are going to work on is accessing and studying Magnolia’s administrative data,” Wojtalik said, noting that the organization’s vast collection of data is used internally, but not for research purposes.

The key areas of examination include:

  • The impact of clubhouse participation on key outcomes, measured by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule, including six focus areas: cognition, mobility, self-care, interpersonal relationships, life/leisure activities and community participation.
  • “The second research question will be taking a look at attendance and trying to understand why some people engage and others do not,” Wojtalik said. “This is important to ultimately understand the needs to those of who do not engage to increase the reach of the clubhouse model for people with serious mental illness.”