The Economics of Recovery: Finding Your Voice

It had been a long day; half-a-dozen intake interviews with several Government benefit applications for SSA disability with the usual back-up documentation. I was drowning in paper.

I’ve probably completed fifteen hundred applications for Government benefits in the past ten years. At this rate, with an estimated SPMI population of twenty thousand in the county (2%), I was looking at one-hundred more years of paperwork! I got into counseling to help people, not fill out forms. There had to be a better way. There was no money for new hires or benefits training & I couldn’t clone myself, so what was I to do?

The solution was sitting right on my desk; my PC is connected to the internet which can reach millions of people, 24/7, for free. If I could create the right content and post it on the right site for our population, their friends, families, therapists, counselors, physicians, etc. to see at their convenience and, on our own computers for our staff & students, it might relieve some of the pressure.

I had read that eighty percent of the U.S. population was now connected to the internet, twenty-nine percent watched videos, twenty-five percent read blogs (newsletters) and the same number visited social networking sites like Facebook and My Space. But I wasn’t searching for old classmates, or a new spouse – I just wanted folks-in-need to know where they could get some street smarts help in securing critical Government benefits and to learn about our NYSED/Microsoft Office Certified Training in the process.

After a few minutes surfing, I found many non-profits had posted their agencies’ profiles to raise awareness of their mission, publicize events, recruit volunteers & solicit donations. They didn’t have to get personal to help people. And, these sites provided a template for us to develop our own site.

For our first venture, we chose to produce a You Tube video to demonstrate how to complete SSA’s disability application and to prepare for the interview. With the help of a NYU Film School student, we filmed a five-minute dramatization including how Social Security defines “disability”, what questions they ask, what terms are used to describe the disability and what documentation is required.

After the video, we invited the viewer to download our Application Packet consisting of SSA’s 3368 application form, the Center’s Guide to Disability Evaluation, Document Checklist, and Guide to Government Benefits. We have had over eight-hundred downloads in the past two months. To view it, go to: and click on: YouTube Video. There are over ninety-thousand “non-profit” videos posted on You Tube and over thirty-thousand videos for “Mental Health.” Modeled on the student yearbook photo/profile format, Facebook was created to help Harvard students get to know one another. Personal profiles morphed into networks based on like studies, interests, hometowns, workplaces, etc. Users can join up to two hundred groups, find people, keep up with friends, play games, and even join a Virtual Pet Society. The most popular uses of Facebook are personal profile updates, jobs, relationship status, photos/videos, event planning, etc. You can also send virtual gifts and post classified ads.

Facebook is currently the most popular social networking site in the world with over one-hundred thirty million unique visitors each month. Some fourteen million photos are uploaded to Facebook, daily. Among college students, Facebook is rated as important as their iPod and beer.

It has been banned at times by China, Syria, Iran and Morocco for promoting attacks on authorities and organizing opposition movements.

There are some thirty-thousand Non-profits on Facebook visited by two thousand “fans.” Over sixteen thousand Mental Health Blogs (Newsletters) are posted including New York-Presbyterian’s Informational Directory. Dozens of ads for NYC Psychiatrists and Therapists appear above and below their listing. A competitor of Face Book, the My Space personal profile includes the usual sections on interests, status, zodiac signs, photos, a bulletin board for messages, music, videos, groups, news, classifieds, karaoke, TV, etc. My Space attracts some one hundred seventeen million unique visitors each month.

A “Mental Health” search turned up over fifty-thousand entries including several NAMI chapters and New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Directory. However, we found less than one-hundred Non-profit profiles contained in MySpace’s Impact Directory. At six million viewers per month, Twitter is the newest and fastest growing social website and is ranked the third most popular website in the world.

Of all the ways to communicate, Twitter’s purpose is perhaps the simplest; it’s designed to answer the question; “what are you doing?” Unlike the other social networking sites, there are no pictures, no videos or sounds (yet), just text. But, no more than 140 characters of text.

The word “twitter” is defined as “a short burst of inconsequential information.” “Pointless babble” makes up about half of the messages or “tweets,” and the rest are considered to have “pass along value” which ranges from tweets about Miley Cyrus’ one million fans who wait for her to explain why she quit Twittering, to where to buy UGGs on sale, to Iranian protests, California brushfires, downed aircraft, and NASA Space Stations. A U.S. Army Intelligence report characterized Twitter as a “potential terrorist tool”.

With the potential of hundreds of millions of people becoming aware of your agency’s services 24/7 for pennies, the social networking sites offer a unique opportunity to expand your reach and to fulfill your mission.

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