“Havertown residents oppose mental health facility”

Abandoned Psychiatric Hospital 5

Abandoned Psychiatric Hospital 5 (Photo credit: spokospoko.org)

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This August 1, 2013 article on the MAINLINE media News website talks about an issue I find disturbing.  This article talks about an outpatient mental health facility that is getting a very cold shoulder from its potential new neighbors.    It’s as though people want those with mental health issues to get treatment as long as it isn’t in their neighborhood or town or county or state …. like its ok to treat folks who need help as long as they aren’t seen.  As I read this particular article, I had to wonder if the residents in the area near this former school considered that there would likely have been students attending the school who had mental illnesses, not to mention it’s possible that there could have been employees who worked at the school with mental health issues, or for that matter, parents of enrolled children who may have had mental health issues and been in the area to pick  up their child.

I grew up playing in fields that had once been farmland for a state hospital, I played basketball in a court that was a combination basketball/tennis court.  I rode my bike on the grounds, and from time to time would come in contact with patients while I was on the grounds.  Today, the property I grew up on has probably increased in value since I was a kid, and yet the state hospital is still there.  I don’t recall ever feeling threatened by the patients, nor do I recall it being an issue involving patients bothering homes that bordered the state hospital property.  I know that it wasn’t uncommon for patients to sneak off grounds to go to a local coffee shop, but to my knowledge there wasn’t a huge amount of friction between patients and the community.

Having grown up next to a state hospital where the people who were being treated at the facility were likely in the worst mental health condition they could be in, otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to be in a state hospital, I would have absolutely no problem living near an outpatient facility, especially knowing that while yes, folks receiving outpatient services may stop taking meds, I also know that the folks receiving outpatient services are likely in better shape mentally then those I came in contact with as a kid on the state hospital grounds.  So when I read articles where the response of a community is to basically say ‘yes, you can treat people with mental illnesses, but you can’t do it in my neighborhood’  I have to wonder if the not in my neighborhood folks consider that approximately 1 out of 4 people has a mental illness of some sort, which means for every 4 people who person encounters on any given day, the odds are good that at least 1 person they meet has a mental illness.  The people who would be receiving treatment at this particular facility, based on the article, would be receiving some job and skills training, which tells me that the agency is looking at ways to help their folks become more productive and fit in with society’s expectations.  So when I think about that, it makes me feel that the people who are complaining about the facility and giving the ‘not in my neighborhood’ type responses, likely would say they are for treatment of the mentally ill as long as the mentally ill weren’t visible.

As I type this post, I would like to point out that I live within about 3 blocks of a pediatric outpatient mental health facility, and have actually lived near the facility for about 8 years or so, and have yet to have any problem with any of the folks who receive services there.  I would actually not have a problem with living directly next door to the agency, because I know from experience that the issues people conjure in their minds about what it might be like living next to a mental health agency are typically worse than anything that reality ends up presenting.

I also know that people will claim their property value will decrease, or that the traffic will increase, or any number of cosmetic issues, but the reality is that the folks most adamantly raising these concerns are afraid to have a neighbor that involves the mentally ill, but because of anti-discrimination laws, people don’t say it’s because they don’t want the mentally ill in their neighborhood, they will grasp at straws and claim that everything from property value to traffic patterns are why they don’t want the agency/facility in their neighborhood.  I also know that there are people who will tell me I’m wrong about my assessment of this, but the reality is that I have a mental illness, and I have experienced firsthand what it’s like to be discriminated against because of my mental illness and to not be given a fair chance, so when people tell me they aren’t trying to dodge outright discrimination by using other stuff as a coverup, I see right through it, because I know it happens.  These ‘not in my neighborhood’ articles tend to make me furious, because I know that discrimination against the mental health community is very much alive in our society.

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