Individuals need support from the community to assume greater control over their own lives, and to utilize the resources within their natural environment. Equally important is the deepening and strengthening of the community’s capacity to respond to people who have previously been rejected.
In many cases, people with severe mental health problems are struggling for survival. Employment opportunities are limited; poverty and homelessness are common. People who are frequent consumers of mental health services risk becoming disconnected from the web of relationships which constitute “community”. Professional service providers alone cannot respond to the need for work, decent income, and reciprocal relationships. Individuals need support from the community to assume greater control over their own lives, and to utilize the resources within their natural environment. Equally important is the deepening and strengthening of the community’s capacity to respond to people who have previously been rejected. Currently, this kind of individual support and community capacity are rare. Most human and fiscal resources are concentrated in the formal mental health system, while informal caring networks, self-help groups, and community groups and agencies are strikingly under-resourced. What is needed is a redistribution of resources to provide more balanced support at the local level. The concept of the “Community Resource Base” (below) depicts this more equitable balance.
Community Resource Base
The Community Resource Base embodies a number of principles for community reinvestment.
- The Individual, rather than the system, is central.The person experiencing mental health problems makes the choices about which supports are most appropriate. The person’s self-identified needs are the focus of attention, and all sectors function to link the person to the broader community.
- Experiential knowledge is valued. Because the value of their experience is recognized, consumers have a critical role to play in planning and decision-making regarding mental health supports. In addition, consumers’ and families’ vital support to people through informal networks and self-help groups must be acknowledged, fostered and compensated.
- Relationships between all the sectors are equally balanced. To achieve a balance, each sector must be funded adequately. Built-in incentives for co-operation may be necessary in order to facilitate the shift in power which accompanies a shift in the balance of resources.
- Reliance on the formal mental health system is reduced. This requires the development of incentives for utilizing the informal sectors. Alternatives to the formal system must be recognized and adequately resourced.
- Professional roles are redefined. Mental health professionals have valuable expertise that complements the experiential knowledge of consumers and informal care givers. Education of mental health professionals should sensitize them to work cooperatively as partners with consumers and informal care givers. Funding mechanisms for mental health professionals should recognize and compensate their expanded role in community programs and services.By adhering to the above principles of community reinvestment, we can begin to redress the current imbalance of human and fiscal resources, and to provide needed support to the informal community sectors. Only then will all the mechanisms be in place for people with severe mental health problems to live rich and fulfilling lives in their communities.