Setting the Bar for Mental Health Treatment

I’m not a model-off duty even though it’s the holiday weekend.

I’ve decided to publish blog entries for this Fourth of July because I don’t want to wait until Monday.

My point is: the bar has been set low for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Heck: for too many years the bar was set in the gutter.

More than this: I think mental health services are dismal because in fact the bar was not set at all.

“Business as usual” didn’t work in 1987 when I had the misfortune of being a recipient of community mental health services. Two years shy of 30 years after 1987 business as usual still isn’t working.

Who says most people can’t recover from schizophrenia? Why are the saying this?

It begs the question: “Why aren’t people able to recover?” Placing the blame on the person himself or herself for failing to recover is NOT the answer. In an era of non-existent mental health services the answer is: the mental health system has failed the very individuals who need effective treatment the most.

Where is this treatment? I’m employed at a job and even I can’t get treatment.

A disincentive exists for most people with mental illnesses to get jobs. If you collect government benefits, you can see a therapist at a clinic once a week going on seven years like one person I know does. If you get a job, you’ll have to pay for your own health insurance. Private therapists won’t take insurance and will charge you $100/session.

If you’re a provider or other person who doesn’t think a person with schizophrenia can recover: what exactly do you think we can do with our lives? If you’re a provider who doesn’t think we can recover what exactly are you providing us? Holding our hands and singing folk songs is not helping us. Stringing us along with treatment that is not evidence-based is not helping us.

Not setting the bar is what’s not helping individuals with schizophrenia recover. Bickering over whether or not a person with schizophrenia should take medication is not helping the majority of people who need to take medication to have an equal shot at a better life.

I submit that 90 percent of the people in society haven’t set the bar for themselves or for others in their ordinary lives.

The one way they set the bar is to groom their kids to do extracurricular activities to guarantee they’ll get into Harvard or Yale or other prestigious colleges. Ironically this pressure causes young people to have ill mental health just trying to conform to what’s considered “normal”–acting super-competitive to get ahead of other people in society.

I make the case for setting the bar in terms of the treatment you expect from providers and other people. Expect respect. Set the bar for the treatment you provide individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Expect that collecting SSI the rest of their lives and living in a dangerous apartment complex on the edge of town: is NOT the guaranteed outcome once they’re diagnosed.

I still can’t say why I had the guts to challenge the staff way back in 1989 when I decided I wanted to get a full-time job and live independently. I can’t say why I had that courage.

I can say that 30 years later the system still isn’t working when a person has to decide between getting government-funded therapy and getting a job.

Universal healthcare anyone?

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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