With the current economic recession our society has developed more fears about day to day life and what the future may hold than in recent memory. This translates into volumes for people who may require mental health treatment as well as community support services. Mental health services are increasingly seen as playing a vital role in addressing the mental health fallout of the current economic crisis. With that comes the increasingly important role of the recovery model of mental illness as an essential component of treatment. Unfortunately, many critics still question the validity of utilizing peers/consumers as a component in providing treatment services within the mental health system. Many consumers like myself, understand that our struggle for acceptance is similar to hardships endured by black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Much of the rights of the Consumer/Peer Movement are being compromised due to the stigma attached to mental illness.
Today’s economic problems are felt to an even greater extend within the peer/consumer community. People with mental illness who are already living close to the economic edge are faced with the rising cost of basic everyday needs such as food, shelter, healthcare, and transportation.
When a society is going through difficult times mental health issues typically rise at a similar pace. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops are returning home with more mental health issues. The not so distant events of 9/11 brought a greater awareness for the need for increased mental health services. Now, we hear more and more about how mental health issues are resulting from the wars in the Middle East, and our current economic recession. As the nation learns to be more understanding of the mental health needs of soldiers returning home from battle and with millions of people losing their jobs, homes, and life savings due to the current economy, we are seeing the ever-increasing personal side of mental illness.
Rather than simply becoming victims of everyday crises we must learn to face the mental health issues created by these events in a more effective way. Surely, when we are in good mental health we can. The increasing use of recovery, peer support, and self-help that community-based services are adopting is a wonderful step in the right direction. Society’s new understanding that mental illness can strike anyone has caused more people to realize the complex nature of mental health and mental illness. The stigma towards mental illness is slowly decreasing with our increased understanding that recovery is possible. In addition, we have learned that keeping people in institutions is more costly than providing community services—a more sound economic approach to be sure.
As in communities across the nation, the current economic climate has also created hardships for people living on a low fixed income who receive government entitlements such as Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD). A new and positive approach has recently been undertaken by the U.S. Treasury Department. They have introduced the “Go Direct Campaign” which enables people in government disability benefit programs to receive their monthly support allowance in the form of a direct deposit to their checking or savings account. The program also utilizes a benefits credit card which is a cost savings for the government who can transfer benefits electronically to recipients rather than sending a paper check in the mail each month. It seems like a great idea to me.
However, advocates who attended a recent internet conference sponsored by the New York State Office of Mental Health that addressed the government’s new Go Direct Campaign had concerns about how consumers would be introduced and trained to use the new direct-deposit benefits system. The benefits credit or debit cards are being offered free to those who sign up for the program. This new initiative by the U.S. Treasury can have a real positive impact for people in mental health care. The Go Direct Campaign needs to be energetically introduced to consumers across the entire local, state and national consumer community. Without doing so, this new program will become just another underutilized service that is of benefit to consumers yet has failed due to a lack of understanding and sensitivity needed to engage the members of our community.
On the bright side, this initiative by the Treasury Department involves consumers in “a greening campaign” by using improved technology. This type of approach may go far in helping peers/consumers feel they are a part of mainstream society by recognizing that people with mental illness are also part of our nation’s economy. This redirection of energy and resources may help lessen the negative effects of stigma toward people with mental illness. It provides everyone with a renewed perspective about mental health that focuses on inclusion rather than stigmatization—an outdated and fear driven idea of social and economic separation.
More attention is needed to address the needs of our nation’s mental health system of care. The issues surrounding mental health – like global warming – require increased education followed by direct action to address the many issues involved. Mental health is about all of us, and in addressing our overall health and well-being mental health cannot be viewed as an afterthought.