Is There Hope For People With Mental Illness?
The challenges that people with mental health issues face are numerous, even in a world where available treaments are most largely successful. The various mental health symptoms (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc.) and their secondary effects (difficulty working, disrupted social life, etc.) are quite a lot to bear. But the mentally ill also face stigma, fear and a general lack of understanding from the general population. These obstacles often result in reluctance to seek treatment and in self-stigma, internalizing the discrimination of others. These serve as barriers to individuals achieving personal goals and feeling good about themselves overall.
The stigma is compounded by tragedies perpetrated by very ill people whose mental health has not been addressed. The truth still stands, however, that the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators. Those who do commit crimes often face jail or prison rather than receiving the treatment they need at state psychiatric hospitals.
What’s more, mental illness knows no bounds. It runs across all socio-economic lines, and affects people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation and pays no heed to level of education. So, is there hope for the mentally ill?
Many of the current medications and therapies are extremely helpful for mental health treatment (when there is compliance), while the promises of new research and newer treatments are encouraging. A resource that is getting more and more attention nation-wide that has proven to be promising is mental health “peer support”: workers with mental illness helping their mentally ill peers in a variety of settings.
One local peer support organization, The Living Miracles Peer Empowerment Center, has been around since 1999. Now located at 11801 Clifton Boulevard, Suite #2, in Lakewood, Ohio, the Miracles offer peer-facilitated discussion groups that serve to educate and support mental health consumers. Group topics range from symptom management to dealing with anger to coping in relationships. Fun activities and recreational trips out in the community are also offered.
Groups at The Living Miracles boost self-confidence and teach coping skills, fight stigma and advocate self-empowerment. Members have a high success rate of staying out of the hospital, and tend to report that at the end of the day at Living Miracles, they feel better than they did when they came in. They also say that the groups are a respite from the stigma and rejection they can experience in the community and with family members. Here, they do believe – and experience – that there is hope for mental illness.
Further services the Living Miracles offer are mentoring at other locations (including the Frontline Crisis Stabilization Unit), and they will soon be providing educational sessions about mental health and stigma at local high schools through Project AWARE (Advocating Wellness and Recovery Education). Also, regular attendees encounter volunteer and employment opportunities there, ranging from sharing their story during an outreach presentation at another agency, to joining the Living Miracles staff.
You can reach The Living Miracles at 216-221-6323 or visit their website at www.thelivingmiracles.org for more information.
Other local resources bring healing to the mental health community as well. NAMI of Greater Cleveland (National Alliance on Mental Illness) provides education and support groups for both consumers and their families. Information about NAMI and about other regional help for the mentally ill can be obtained at www.namigreatercleveland.org, or 216-875-7776.
Another big supporter of the mental health community, the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County (Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services), funds agencies that provide clinical assistance for children, adults and the elderly. Find them at www.adamhscc.org. For more information about local agencies, call them at 216-241-3400. Finally, don’t forget that 2-1-1 (United Way) has referrals to mental health agencies and services.
It takes a shift in understanding and a willingness to look at mental illness without judgment and shame to help tear down the barriers that keep mental health consumers from healing and moving forward with their lives. Through professional treatment, and with the support of peers, family, friends and the whole community, the mentally ill can move along the continuum of recovery, meeting and surpassing their own goals, living lives that, in eras past, would not have been thought possible. With new medical discoveries and, most importantly, new attitudes, there certainly is a cause for optimism concerning mental illness, a cause for Hope.
Marc Mannheimer, works as a peer support specialist at the Living Miracles. He edited their book of poetry, Echoes of Hope, in 2012, and runs support groups at the organization. He has worked with mental health consumers professionally for the past 7 and a half years.