Disabled or Disturbed? (by Christina C.)

Introductionservice dogs

My interest in mental health led me to volunteer with Healing Companions Inc. a non-profit organization that trains psychiatric service dogs to help support those suffering from mental illness.  My volunteer work inspired me to research the debilitating affects of mental illness and how classifying “mental illness” as a disability allows alternative treatment options and helps those suffering live more fulfilling independent lives.  The state of Oregon has very few alternative and community treatment options for those with mental illness and relies heavily on state and federally funded institutions.  For this reason I wrote a letter to the editor of the Oregonian using my research as a guide to help figure out what Oregon can do to implement more community based treatments and offer alternative treatment options to mental health patients.

Research Question:

How does classifying mental illness as a disability impact treatment, recovery, and the quality of life of those suffering from mental illnesses?

PART 1: The Research Collection

Source 1

“Small Miracles Have Big Impact For Individuals Living With Mental Health Disabilities.” Mental Health Weekly Digest 3 June 2013: 195. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Mar. 2014.

This article talks about how Independent Living Centers (ILC’s) play a significant role in helping people who suffer from mental health disabilities.  The article discusses how the stigma around mental illness often leads to under reporting of mental health disabilities when requesting services by ILCs.  They recognize that stigma is the number one barrier to seeking help and are working to reduce the negative impacts stigma and discrimination have on mental illnesses and hope to bring mental health into a more positive light.  The Disabled Resource Center (DRC) in California is also trying to help those with mental health disabilities be able to live independently and have the help they need.  The DRC offers support groups and job developers to assist those with disabilities in finding jobs.  They also offer rehabilitation and skills training and other community resources to help them reintegrate into everyday activities.  The DRC executive director Dolores Nason has seen an increase in people indicating they have a “mental health disability” and more self reporting despite past stigma around mental illness.  This is an authoritative resource because it is from a scholarly magazine that is used for educational and informative purposes.

This relates to my research because it discusses the stigma around mental illness and how classifying it as a disability has made it easier for people to seek help and find resources.  By looking at the disabling aspects of what having a mental illness does to a person they are able to be seen as “disabled” and qualify for treatments, programs and opportunities because of that disability.

Source 2

Humphreys, Keith. “A Golden Age of Mental Health.” Stanford Daily RSS. N.p., 06 Mar. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014. <http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/03/06/a-golden-age-of-mental- health/>.

This article discusses how mental health is treated by the American health care system.  In the past the treatment of mental illness was only partially limited by the stigma and fear associated with mental illness.  The biggest limitation came from lack of money.  The author talks about the unwillingness of society in the past to fund addiction and mental illness treatments the same as other health problems.  The article talks about insurance packages for employees lacking mental health benefits and the problems this causes for families of those suffering from mental health disorders.  The Affordable Care Act allowed for mental illness and addiction to be classified as “essential health benefits.”  This allows those suffering from mental illnesses to get coverage for treatment.  This in an authoritative resource because the author has a Ph D. and is a Professor and Director of Mental Health Policy, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

This relates to my research because it talks about how society has been unwilling in the past to look at mental illness as a real sickness or disability.  If mental illness was seen as a disability discrimination would not be allowed for health providers or employers.  This also fits into the bigger scheme of things because it gives evidence that we are changing as a society and slowly accepting mental illness as something that is common and needs coverage.

Source 3

Morrissey, Fiona. “The United Nations Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities:A New Approach To Decision-Making In Mental Health Law.” European Journal of Health Law 19.5 (2012): 423-440. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Feb. 2014.

This article supports mental illness as a disability but also takes into account the fact that those suffering from mental illnesses have been discriminated against and often times are not allowed to be involved in their own treatment or care.  As a result of being diagnosed with a disorder patients find themselves unable to make important life decisions, they are seen as “un-fit” or needing guidance.  By classifying mental illness as a disability those with mental illnesses cannot be discriminated against in treatment.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has recently reclassified mental health rights to be in the realm of disability rights.  This ruling should result in equal treatment being provided to those with mental illnesses.  This is an authoritative source because it is from a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.

This is important to my research as it gives evidence to mental illness being classified as a disability.  By changing the classification you change the way people look at those who suffer from mental illness.  It also changes the treatment options that are available to them and eliminates discrimination against them because of their mental illness.

Source 4

Linkins, Karen W., et al.”Influencing The Disability Trajectory For Workers With Serious Mental Illness: Lessons From Minnesota’s Demonstration To Maintain Independence And Employment.”  Journal Of Vocational Rehabilitation 34.2 (2011): 107-118. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

This article discusses how those suffering from serious mental illness do not have have access to the health and employment support services they need.  Because of this they are having to rely on federal disability programs.  The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries with mental health disabilities are the largest and fastest-growing  disability group.  The article talks about how once people go on SSDI they have many disincentives for returning to work one of which is the fear of losing their health insurance coverage.  The state of Minnesota is testing an intervention called “Stay Well, Stay Working” (SWSW) that addresses the issue of those suffering from mental illness leaving the workforce to go on SSDI.  A core value of SWSW is to empower those suffering to use resources and manage their health to stay positive in the workforce.  It is important for those suffering mental illness to stay in the workforce as it provides a source of income, social support, and a way to engage in mainstream society.  This is an authoritative resource because it is from a peer reviewed scholarly journal.

This is relevant to my research as it once again discusses the lack of health and insurance coverage available to those with mental illness.  This also gives strength to the argument that classifying mental illness as a disability helps open treatment options for them.  In this case it sheds a negative light on the disability stance because people are being forced to use federal programs because no other options are offered to them.  This article also goes into the quality of life of people with mental illnesses and how they need resources and support to improve their quality of life, many of which are not available to them at this time.

PART 2: Public Writing

Letter to the Editor:

The Oregonian

 “Oregon far behind in community mental health services, federal report finds” January 23, 2014
Stigma is the number one barrier to seeking help when it comes to mental health disabilities and can lead to under reporting of mental illness.  Society has shown it is unwilling to fund addiction and mental illness treatments the same as other health problems.  Since Oregon relies heavily on institutional settings to treat mental health there is no wonder that the streets of Portland are filled with people suffering from these ailments.  No one wants to get carted off to the loony bin.   Those suffering from mental illness are often times discriminated against and are not allowed to be involved in their own treatment or care.  By classifying mental illness as a disability those with mental illnesses cannot be discriminated against in treatment.  Funding alternative treatments and community based services in Oregon would alleviate discrimination from State funded facilities and allow patients to be more involved in their treatment.  In California The Disabled Resource Center is trying to help those with mental health disabilities be able to live independently and have the help they need, if Oregon treated mental illness as a disability funding could be redirected to these types of treatment centers.  There is an epidemic of mental illness in Oregon and locking them away is not the way to solve the problem.
Sincerely,
Christina Campbell
Student at PCC
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One comment

  1. Whoops, I accidentally pressed enter too soon. I just wanted to let you know on a more personal level why I think this topic is so important- I actually have a parent who is mentally unstable but has never been officially diagnosed. It has been a very hard thing for my family to deal with, as they refuse to get any kind of help. So that was one of my questions regarding your volunteer work- how do people get assigned service dogs? Are they recommended to them by a doctor? Do they ever get assigned to people who haven’t officially been diagnosed? Thanks again for researching this topic and sharing it with the broader community.

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