This February 5, 1963 article found in The Pittsburgh Press, vol. 79 number 323 on page 11, outlines JFK’s plans to reduce the cost of caring for folks with mental illnesses and mental retardation (currently known as intellectually disabled) by increasing spending on community based services. Points made in the article include that it would cost less to treat someone in the community then it would to have them treated as an inpatient.
I post this particular article to show that the current battle being waged over human services funding is not a new one, but a rather old one. It is a battle that while the names have changed, the arguments seem to have remained very much the same. On one side there are those who feel that it is a waste of money to help those with mental health or intellectual disabilities, while at the same time there are those who are just as adamant that it is the right thing to do and a worthy cause to help folks with these sorts of diagnosis.
Is it possible that maybe we are running on a mouse wheel trying to come up with new answers to an old problem? if so, should we maybe consider getting off the mouse wheel and look to see what else is out there that might work and be beneficial to both sides of the battle line. The people getting hurt by the battle are those being fought over. We get glimmers of hope from one side that get ripped away by the other side.
I’m seeing an overall improvment in the quality of the care I receive, but I also know that there are many who are falling through the cracks, because of funding cuts to community based services when people fall through these cracks, thats when the media pays attention and our society goes into a state of shock and disbelief while at the same time denying any responsibility for what happened. I saw an article the other day that indicated the person who went on a shooting spree at Western Psych in Pittsburgh, PA had actually contacted Western Psych approximately 40 times for mental health reasons prior to the incident. If this is true then that tells me that it isn’t just the person who committed the crime that is at fault, but I have to suggest that the system failed this person not neccesarily because Western Psych messed up, but because as a society we have underfunded human services programs to the point where waiting lists are the norm and people who are in critical need of help end up waiting for months to get the hep they need. Most cases the person doesn’t go on a shooting spree, but the effects are still costly. Someone who is depressed for example is at a high risk of comitting suicide, which if they succeed, will impact the person and everyone they know, and also create a ripple effect that effects others the person may not have known, but still there is an impact. There is the lose of the individual, then the survivors may end up losing wages as well, because they had to take time off for funeral and grieving. Because these people took time off, their employer may have lost business because the business may not have been able to run as efficiently during that time. The ripples continue on and on.
While not every person with a mental illness is able to work a traditional 9 to 5 job, there are ways that they are able to give back to their community. In my case, I write this blog, research the history of Warren State Hospital, I serve as secretary on a Consumer Advisory Board for my local mental health service provider, I occasionally write and publish articles. Am I lazy? Some may say I am, but if they got to know me, they would realize that even though I may not be holding down a jb, I am working towards the goal of being able to work. I have an Anxiety disorder that makes it very challenging to do things like buy food without panicking. A lot of what I do is in a very small fairly controlled realm and for me if I stay in that realm I function fairly well, but when I try, and I often do try, to step beyond my realm I start to have problems. I have been expanding my world a little and in the past year have gone from feeling like I couldn’t leave my home without a purpose (like buying food) to where I am able to go for walks around my neighborhood and not feel like I have to have a purpose for leaving my home. I still struggle a lot, new things scare me, even things that are good cause me to have problems. I love computers, so I’m finding ways to use technology to help me overcome my anxiety. Metaldetecting is one example of something I’ve done to help myself work on expanding my world a little. I’m currently looking at trying geocaching while these are more like hobbies, to me, they are stepping stones, things I can do that allow me to use technology to help me get out of my home and into the world. They also offer something I can use as a sort of “prop” to help me talk to others a little easier, which is something that I generally can’t do unless someone approaches me and initiates the conversation. Technology that I’m using is such that I would not be allowed to use it if I were in a mental health facility as an inpatient, I would have to try to use whatever was available to me which may not be much in the way of things that are interesting to me, and help me to engage in conversation with others. Being in the community and being able to try non-traditional methods of helping myself with the encouragement of the professionals that have been helping me, has enabled my progress to keep moving forward, though like anyone I have good days and bad days, and the bad days make progress come to a screeching halt sometimes, but with the community supports I have in place, I am able to serve on a board, which is something that if you had suggested I try back when I was in my early 30’s I would have had a complete meltdown over the mere thought of trying something that important.
In closing I want to thank those who have been supportive of me and helped me face my ongoing challenges, but at the same time I hope that those who feel that fundiung the programs I utilize aren’t worthwhile, I hope that maybe something I shared here will help increase an understanding of what has been helpful to me and take away the idea that it costs less for me to be in the community with my support system then it does for me to be in a facility as an inpatient.
JFK was just one of many who have seen that it was more cost effective for folks to be treated in the community, maybe it’s time for others to wake up and see that there might be some truth to it and that cutting funding to these programs is detrimental to not only my success but also the success of many others.