Mental Illness and Community: Does it Matter?

June 2, 2011 Randye Kaye

When mental illness meets recovery, does community matter?

You bet it does.

I just returned from a meeting with my son's new support team. This meeting was demanded by the the Wicked Witch (me, in this case), who was upset with the way the transition was handled from group home to supervised independent housing. In the space of two weeks, I've seen signs that Ben is lost, lonely, unmotivated, forgetful, swinging from depressed to hyper, and probably not taking his meds when he can get away with it. Schizophrenia still looms underneath all the progress he's made.

Back and forth went the conversation, over and over again.

me: Where was the support for Ben's transition from 24/7 supervision to independent living?

caseworkers: We were told by his group home that he was doing great and is ready for independence.

Ben: I'm fine. I'm taking my meds!alone2

me: If someone is doing well with constant supervision, accountability, community, and structure - what makes you think he will be the same way when all that is taken away?

them: It's his responsibility now. We were assured he was ready for our program.

me: By the people who have never seen him completely on his own.

Ben: I'm fine. Leave me alone.

me: How do you know he can take on all that responsibility without the community that guided him for seven years?

them: We wait 30 days to see how someone does, and then see what he needs in the way of support.

me: Really? When he can land back in the hospital in two days?

Finally, we came up with a plan for added structure: a weekly home visit or caseworker check-in; a blood test to determine if med levels are therapeutic; a requirement for weekly NA/AA meetings to continue; an introduction to a community of others in Ben's situation who get together to play sports, go on day trips, take classes. It's something. It's a start. And Ben is better today. He needs to know someone is watching, as much as he claims to hate it.

In the 1990's, a panel of consumers offered a list of "essential ingredients" for recovery at a NAMI National Conference. On the list:

  • a safe and stable environment
  • the best medical treatments
  • someone who sees me as special, who will share themselves
  • an educated, supportive family
  • something to get involved in: work, community, advocacy
  • education about the effective management of my illness
  • focus on consumer strength and self-determination
  • sustaining hope and a vision of what is possible

For these needs to be met, everyone needs community - mental illness or no.

fellowshipplace-mhjourneyjpgNext week I speak to the members of just such a place: Fellowship Place in New Haven, CT. I wish Ben lived next door to this wonderful campus, where respect and possibility for those with mental illness is provided each and every day.

Ben lost his community when school and his living situation changed at the same time, and there were no pillows to cushion his fall. A sense of purpose is vital. What about those who don't know how to ask for what they need - or who have no one to advocate for them? I wonder. And worry. For now, we've dodged the bullet. But why did no one see what would have prevented these steps backward?

APA Reference
Kaye, R. (2011, June 2). Mental Illness and Community: Does it Matter?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Randye Kaye

February, 3 2016 at 7:45 am

I think the RIGHT KIND of community Matters. I just never exactly likes, how people are ripped from care homes, into squalid-looking flats. Though, maybe your sons flat looks more credible than mine. It all depends if they're ready to move on. You or anyone can only do so much for him. It should be up to the patient on what happens with the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. My social worker forced me out of the care home. I was livid.I felt like getting revenge on her. Sometimes it really IS the fault of a mental health team. Why deny it? Glad that your son is settled there. He's taken it way better than I ever did. I didn't want to move out of the care home.

June, 25 2011 at 6:34 am

In my personal experience with BP since '1975 on/off,although i was aware that i had a problem that i had little control,i took each ease in symptoms as a sign of cure & independance.I did not want to remain on medication 4 the rest of my life.When i 1st had BP disorder in the 70's it was called manic depression. Lithuim & tricyclics were the treatment of choice. From the 70's till the present i have had 2 remissions of long periods of 7 yrs + where medications were totally stopped & i was 'normal'.From 1993 to last year (early 2010) i was on a roller ccoaster.Every time or most times on a 'high' i felt that the lows would not appear vagain.I savoured these moments but unfortunately would resume activities such as self medication(alcohol) sometimes. Knowingly partaking,despite bad experiences it was still 'kamakazi' like behaviour which i still cannot understand. Its like putting your hand in the fire just for a dare(bravado) or sometimes 'self inflicted punishment'.Please do not blame yourself for anyones behaviour since we all make our own choices & the best that u can do is provide support,which sometimes fruitlessly spurned. Take care.U need 2 b well 2 provide support.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
June, 25 2011 at 6:46 am

Thanks so much for sharing your experience and advice. Each story is unique, yet so many common threads exist as well. My best to you. Randye

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