Independent Living Centers Provide Proven Alternatives for Individuals with Mental Health Disabilities to Live Well and Independently

May 22, 2014, 12:08 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Too often, individuals with mental health disabilities who are in crisis end up in mental health facilities, living on the streets or incarcerated in jails or prisons. In contrast, California's Independent Living Centers (ILCs) provide an alternative to hospitalization and incarceration through community-based programs and support services that promote independence and lead to a healthy lifestyle. One such ILC is the Westside Center for Independent Living (WCIL), which focuses on the person not the mental health disability, and offers services designed to empower individuals, allowing them to take charge of their lives.

"California's 28 ILCs support success and ongoing independence when compared to jails or hospitals that mainly address the immediate crisis," noted California State Independent Living Council Executive Director Liz Pazdral. "Incarceration does not yield better outcomes nor is it cost-effective when compared to providing permanent housing and a support system of programs and services for people with mental health disabilities."

As a major step to providing effective services, WCIL identified four critical gaps in mental health services in West Los Angeles. The gaps included:  the lack of prevention and early intervention for young children before entering school; the lack of quality and affordable housing; the failure to address the needs of homeless individuals, including many young Veterans; and the gap referred to as the "lost population" or people who don't seek treatment for reasons such as the stigma associated with mental illness, cultural and language barriers or not having access to services where they live.

To close the gaps, WCIL works closely with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and collaborates with local mental health partners to provide peer-to-peer counseling and a variety of essential community-based services and programs.

"One of the ways WCIL empowers individuals living with mental health disabilities is by training them to become peer advocates through our Mental Health Peer Support Program," said WCIL Program Manager Keith Miller. "This eight-week course, which covers crisis intervention, setting boundaries between counselor and consumer, case management, community resources, advocacy, housing issues and more, is followed by a 10-week internship in a mental health agency in our service area, often resulting in the advocate trainees finding permanent employment."

In addition to housing and training, WCIL conducts mental health support groups focused on wellness and healthy living, art therapy, creative writing, gardening, women's issues, current events and other areas of interest.

"Our outreach is crucial to tapping into underserved populations," said Miller. "By offering these support groups, providing information about mental health services in various languages and working with community leaders and policymakers, we expand awareness of available resources and link agencies to cast a wide net of services for people living with mental health disabilities."

In May, WCIL participated in a town hall meeting where candidates running for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to hear from residents and explain how they intend to support and enhance mental health programs and services to address the identified service gaps in the district. A number of peer advocates from WCIL attended the forum.

When asked what can be done to ensure people with mental health needs live well and as independently as possible, Miller concluded, "Meet each person where he or she is in life and recognize that, with proper support services and treatment, people with mental health disabilities can live independently and not be segregated or forced to live on the streets or in jails."

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)