And One More Thing!

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Read last blog if you haven’t  – then return here!

About the underfunding: Homeless people are probably the least valued members of society and when something is not valued, very little money is steered in that direction.  Homeless services are vastly underfunded due to this.  Whether the government sees the value or not, public sentiment ultimately determines where the money goes.  I guess this could be debated in many cases (ie gun laws), but I think the stigma against the homeless (and mentally ill) is so strong that it has enough power to steer the funding.

What does this mean for the quality of the services provided? You guessed it – they are grossly inadequate.  The people providing support and mental health services to the most mentally ill population are the people with the least experience or qualifications.  Trust me, I do the hiring around here and it is slim pickings due to the amount that we can afford to pay.  The clinicians working directly with the clients are generally right out of school or have struggled to find jobs in more high paying mental health fields (which means they just aren’t as good) and, as I said, they are working with our most mentally ill citizens!

This is a recipe for disaster– and I think we see some of this disaster presenting itself in the form of mass shootings.

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Welfare “Queen” – Part II

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I know my vast audience has been waiting patiently for my follow-up to my “Truth About the Lazy Welfare Queen” post. Well, today is your lucky day.  I am back and inspired! So, let me introduce you to Arnold.

Okay, since we are talking about a man today, he is obviously not a “queen” so I guess we shall call him a “king” instead.  Arnold is on disability for a mental health issue — the one, the only, Schizophrenia.  Most people probably haven’t spent much time with schizophrenics unless you are unlucky enough to have this disorder run in your family or you work in the mental health field.  Schizophrenia is a scary and debilitating condition that strikes people just like cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or any other genetic disease.  Schizophrenia is not multiple personalities as sometimes it has been portrayed. Without getting too technical,  it is a psychotic disorder involving delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.  Schizophrenics have so much noise in their heads at times that they can’t function properly.  They are often scared, angry, or aggressive but, with proper medication, they are rather functional.

Arnold grew up in upper middle class suburbs of a major metropolitan area.  His parents are African immigrants, his father a doctor. He had the typical suburban life of neighborhood playmates, afterschool activities, vacations with the family, etc.  He did well enough in school to get into a well-known and popular state college.  Once in college, things just started going awry.  His grades weren’t great and his concentration waned…he was struggling with voices, confusion, anger.  He dropped out and returned home and got a good job in the county, but the problems continued. He was on the road to a full psychotic break. 

His story is so scary to me and, unfortunately, it is one I have heard repeatedly:  A successful trajectory cut short by a psychotic break. This could have been you, me, your son or daughter. Unfortunately for Arnold, some of his symptoms were paranoia and aggression.  At one point he got aggressive with his parents and he was forced to leave the home, resulting in his homelessness.  I don’t know the specifics of this part of his story, but he was able to get support, get medicated properly, and become housed through the homeless system.  Since the state hospitals/community mental health were defunded in the 80’s under President Reagan, the homeless system has managed to pick up where the hospitals left off.  Homeless services are now a major provider of housing and support services for the mentally ill. 

Arnold is now 38 years old and an exemplary member of our community.  He regularly attends to his mental health needs, he always pays his rent on time and he has been the President of the community tenant council for two terms.  He is kind, funny, articulate, and if he was walking down the street or was on the bus with you, you would never know he wasn’t your average joe citizen.  Arnold has every desire to still be successful in the way that he envisioned when he was 18 and going off to college. He started community college last year and is doing well. He keeps his course load light and gets a lot of support, but he is highly intelligent and able.

The sad part is that, even with his stability, his family is not helping him more financially even though they could.  I believe that a lot of their resistance is out of fear and the stigma of mental illness. They still tell him that they will buy him a car if he graduates from college and recently they bought him a lap top to help him, but they keep him at an arm’s length and still maintain the same standards of success for him that they had for him when he was 18 and not sick.  Here we have a world-reknowned doctor who could financially support him 100% but does not.  Would he support him if his son had been paralyzed at the age of 20 or had been struck with multiple sclerosis? Would they still only help him financially if he obtains a college degree if he had sustained a traumatic brain injury? The stigma and ignorance is powerful with mental illness.

I, for one, am glad the system is here to support him.  One, because he is human and deserves the dignity of a home and adequate mental health treatment.  Two, because if we don’t support him, the other option is him living on the street, uninsured, unmedicated, a drain on our law enforcement and healthcare systems, and a potential danger to our society.  With all of the recent mass shootings in the United States, many fingers have been pointed at the mental health system and perhaps rightly so in many cases, but a huge problem is the underfunding and lack of resources.  People can point the finger all they want but the problem with the system will continue until they are willing to support this system financially and to support the “lazy” people in need, and perhaps see them as humans in need.