President Obama, marking National Mental Health Awareness Month, has called for an end to the shame and stigma attached to mental illness. As activist Elyn Saks puts it, “there is a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life.”
The twenty-first century has brought major progress in developing new medications, pinpointing genetic factors, and especially in early identification of young people at risk. The outlook for someone with mental illness is better than it has ever been.
And, just as important, there is a renaissance in the area of community care, thanks to many highly dedicated doctors, social workers, and therapists. This is not a new idea: Gould Farm in Massachusetts celebrates its centennial this summer (that is their kitchen pictured below), and in the village of Geel, in Belgium, townspeople have fostered the mentally ill, taking them into their families for over seven centuries.
Community care models like those pioneered by Fountain House in New York City or CooperRiis in Asheville, North Carolina (pictured at the top are Lisbeth Riis and Don Cooper, founders), are being replicated in many places. All aspire to treat every patient with human respect and dignity, giving them a role and a web of relationships, providing hope and healing as well as the latest medications and therapies.
Every one of us knows someone touched by mental illness–please consider volunteering your time or money to help. For more information on community care, please visit the American Residential Treatment Association website.