More than money

Improving mental health system requires dramatic changes.

By Anna Scheyett

[07.07.04] — The report from the President’s New Freedom Mental Health Commission released last year describes a mental-health system in crisis, fragmented, underfunded and minimally effective, and calls for dramatic changes in the way mental-health services are provided.

These changes will require both leadership and adequate resources for successful implementation.

Restructuring the system will require changes in a number of essential areas.

While it is obvious the system needs more resources and funds, and good leadership, it also needs better quality services, a better-educated mental-health workforce, and education and support of citizens.

First, we need an adequately funded system that invests in the resources necessary for recovery.

However, we do not simply need more services: We need services that are grounded in solid research evidence, and that allow mental health services to be maximally effective and give people the best chance for recovery.

This means administrators need to provide time and resources for ongoing training, and that university researchers need to partner with administrators and providers to get their findings implemented in the field as quickly as possible.

Second, we need an education system that produces a mental-health workforce skilled in best practices and grounded in a philosophy of partnership and recovery.

This means universities must be willing to look at their curricula and make needed changes so their graduates can provide the most effective services possible in a restructured and improved system.

People in recovery from mental illnesses and their family members can be excellent educational consultants in this process.

Finally, if people with mental illnesses are to have meaningful recoveries, all of us, as citizens, must be open and welcoming as they strive to find a place in the community.

The New Freedom report cites stigma and discrimination from the community as one of the biggest challenges people with mental illnesses must overcome.

Fear of stigma keeps people from seeking help, from trying to find a job, from entering the community.

All of us must reject the prejudiced stereotypes of mental illnesses fed to us by the media.

Mental illnesses do not make people prone to violence and are not incurable disorders that leave their “victims” helpless and unable to work or build meaningful relationships.

Recovery is a reality, and people with mental illnesses can be, and are, contributing members of our community.

It is important to realize, however, that recovery does not just depend on a reformed mental health system with good services and good funding.  Good mental health care and the hope for recovery rest with all of us.

Anna Scheyett is a clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work.

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