I went to a meeting at a peer support center tonight and listened while some of the people there where told what the mental health budget may hold for peer support centers. The prospects are dismaying. Nothing is set in stone and there are some definite things to work on BUT….. if advocacy efforts are unsuccessful then peer support centers in Tennessee may loose as much as 50% or more in funding. Most are already operating on a shoe string level and many will not survive.
The irony is that in times of financial constraints peer support is about as about as much bang for your buck as you can get. It costs $3.60 a day for someone to be in a peer support center. In Tennessee reportedly people who attend peer support centers have as much as a 90% decrease in hospitalization rates. It would seem to me that it should not be a casualty of financial restraint, but a shining example of it.
I listened to one lady in the back of the room in particular. She had no family she said and the only people she knew that cared were the people at the peer support center. She wondered where she would go or what she would do but no one really knew anything to tell her. We talked instead about having a loud voice and how the most important thing she wanted people to know about her was not that she had a mental illness, but that she was a person. She said she had been trying to tell people a long time, but just wasnt sure whether anyone would really listen. Scared doesnt really describe how she feels I think. It was past that. She had found hope after many years of not believing it possible and now wondered if that was to be lost too.
Many voices are needed now. Once again it seems as if the mental health system is perched at the edge of the cliff. There are people who are trying. Mental health commissioner Doug Varney’s plan to try to begin to move the state past an over-reliance on large custodial institutions and more towards a community based system is long overdue. But it must go past one proposal and one effort. We need to marshal voices supporting a new vision of what it means to be labeled mentally ill and a new vision of what is possible for each and every human being. We need a lot of voices like that.
I think the lady in the back of the room will be one.
If we dont find a way to move back from the cliff are we not doomed to eventually fall off?