ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Shredded Safety Net

By Jack Bragen
Friday April 11, 2014 - 09:48:00 AM

The mental health treatment system is a part of the safety net for persons with mental illness. However, this safety net has holes in it--gaping holes. If someone is completely disabled and can't take care of himself or herself, services do exist for such a person to be maintained. It is not a good life, but it is a life.  

However, if you have a psychiatric disability and your intellect is intact, and maybe you have aspirations, there isn't much assistance for you. While it is true that the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation did help me in the distant past, they unofficially withdrew support when it became apparent that I have ongoing problems. I was helped by programs (in the mental health treatment system) that were intended to assist higher functioning people with integrating into the community. However, due to budgetary cuts, programs like these have long ago been slashed.  

In spite of my less than ideal experiences with Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, I would still recommend going there, at least to see if they have anything to offer. If what they are offering doesn't suit you, then no harm done, just move on. My wife, who has a bachelor's degree in Human Development, was referred by them to a training to become a motel maid. So, in some cases there are or were wrong assessments. 

Once an alternative to being helped by the state, Mental Health Consumer Concerns was a consumer run organization in the Concord/Martinez area in which consumers were helped by each other. However, they lost their contract and their funding, apparently due to mismanagement. At one time they had a community drop-in center that occupied one of the storefronts that are part of the Riverhouse Hotel building. It was at that community center where I first met my wife, Joanna.  

Persons with mental illness who are high functioning must look to places other than those provided by the mental health treatment system if we want peer support. It is very unfortunate that Mental Health Consumer Concerns and perhaps other peer organizations disappeared off the map, since they were venues in which high functioning persons with mental illness could meet and intermingle. Now it feels as though we have been hunted down as a species--or as a highly inconvenient classification of people.  

Rather than expansion of mental health services, which is what the government ought to be doing, more jails have been built.  

Safe, clean, accessible, affordable housing has become an extreme rarity. On the amount of income provided by SSI, most persons with disabilities are forced to live in some type of institutional housing, since it is not enough money to survive in a share rental situation.  

Thus, if you are mentally ill, high functioning, and medication compliant yet still reliant on services from the government or from Medicare funded agencies, there isn't a lot of support. My wife and I struggle to deal with our day-to-day lives, and wish that things were easier and that there would be more help.  

Those who receive more help must put up with lives that have more restrictions, less independence and fewer choices concerning how they live.  

Additionally, some of the paid caregivers employed to help persons with mental illness can be condescending and may operate under the assumption that all mentally ill people are of inferior intelligence. Thus, I might get a counselor young enough to be my offspring who has the false idea that they are going to teach me something. Such a person is in a position of some amount of authority over me, and this can be disconcerting. (But that's an entirely other issue.)  

In all fairness, I should add that there exists the Putnam Clubhouse in Concord, California. It is not my sort of thing, but it can be a place to go for many persons with mental illness who would otherwise lack a place where they belong. I have a brother, also diagnosed with Schizophrenia, who goes there and gets a lot of good from it.