An article published in the March 18th edition of the Asbury Park Press
By Valerie Fox
Recently I read a lengthy editorial from a mental health advocate who stated strongly that institutions should close and have all mentally ill people treated in the community. The writer works for a large mental health community provider, which has probably influenced her opinion. In this editorial, no thought was given for people who cannot live in the community, but instead need the shelter of a long-term care facility.
Having been involved in direct care in the mental health system as a consumer-provider and having visited many people in institutions and in the community while serving on boards and committees, it is my opinion that, unfortunately, not all mentally ill people have responded to medication. For some, a number of meds are tried, but none give freedom from serious symptoms to be able to seek and live a good quality of life.
I have met other people who do not have insight into their illnesses and the need to take medication. These people are very vulnerable to becoming victims or victimizing others because they are not living in reality, but instead are living in the grip of voices and delusions.
For myself, after living homeless for approximately two years, I initiated being sent to an institution. I did not know I was ill, but I did know enough that going to a community hospital would not help me. I would be treated very well but, once I was stabilized, I would be returned to the community as I had been a few times while homeless. For me, this short hospitalization was not enough time for healing to take a firm hold on me.
When in long-term care, I had more time to think about my life and where it had gone, and how to get back the good life I had known prior to homelessness; I had been very traumatized by homelessness, and I was given the chance to slowly adjust to re-entering the community with strong linkage, especially housing options.
I am happy that many people can live in the community while living with mental illness. However, I don't think we should lose sight that not all people can and will need sheltered care for some period of time, whether long-term or a few months.
Let us keep the option of long-term care for those who need it; and let us continue building innovative community programs. Both are needed in my opinion to continue to meet the needs of people living with mental illness in New Jersey.
Valerie Fox of Parsippany is founder and president of the Morris County Mental Health Coalition. She is in recovery, having lived with schizophrenia for many years. She is a mental health advocate and writes on mental health topics.
Personal Accounts: Schizophrenia and Socialization