Small Miracles Have Big Impact For Individuals Living With Mental Health Disabilities

Independent Living Centers Offer Individuals a Safe Environment with Solutions

May 22, 2013, 18:35 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 22, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Just as physical disabilities can be an obstacle to living independently, so can mental health disabilities. With approximately 25 percent, or one in four adults, living with mental illness, the need for services that provide solutions and assist individuals to live independently is great. It's well known that social factors, including where a person lives, contribute to restoring overall health, which is where Independent Living Centers (ILCs) play a significant role.

"In light of the stigma associated with mental health, individuals often under report these disabilities when accessing services offered by ILCs," said Executive Director of the California State Independent Living Council Liz Pazdral. "This makes it difficult to track the true number of individuals living with mental health disabilities; however, through years of experience, we know the number has increased tremendously within the last decade and ILC services are needed more now than ever."

"Because we recognize that stigma is the number one barrier to seeking help, the SILC has been engaged with the work of the California Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Consortium," Pazdral commented.  "We are committed to helping reduce the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination and bringing mental health into a positive light."

ILCs are located in both urban and rural areas and offer a wide range of services, including peer support and linkages to mental health resources. At the Disabled Resources Center (DRC) in Long Beach, California, more than 1,200 new consumers are served every year with close to 430 individuals self-reporting as living with a mental health disability or multiple disabilities, which often includes mental health disabilities.

Although serving fewer individuals than DRC, the FREED Center for Independent Living (FREED), covering residents in five rural counties, also has seen an increase in the number of people self-reporting. Within the last five years, FREED has seen approximately 35 percent more individuals living with mental health or multiple disabilities.

"After many years of seeing enormous stigma around mental illness, I am now seeing a gradual showing of people indicating they have a mental health disability," said DRC Executive Director Dolores Nason. "For example, we are seeing an increase in the number of veterans returning home with mental health disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. Although veterans have access to the Veterans Administration's (VA) hospitals, many seek help from us, particularly when it comes to applying for benefits."

Filing for VA benefits is a complicated process, proven by the fact that DRC sees as many as 85 percent of initial benefit applications denied. When DRC's benefits counselor steps in to assist, including preparing for and attending hearings before an administrative law judge, the success rate for filed applications increases to 98 percent.

"We are focused on giving people the tools to do things themselves, but there are times when someone's mental health can make it difficult to follow through on tasks, and that's where we can help," said Nason.

DRC also offers support groups and job developers to assist individuals living with mental health disabilities in getting jobs. Referred by the California Department of Rehabilitation for employment preparation, DRC trains individuals on tasks needed for success and points them to additional community resources, if needed. Examples include the Mental Health America (MHA) Village where DRC refers individuals looking for a social outlet, which also has case management services, and Long Beach County Mental Health Services for evaluations and medications.

Executive Director of FREED Ana Acton describes the core services available at the ILC as benefitting anyone with mental health or multiple disabilities. However, recognizing isolation as a significant issue, FREED offers a Friendly Visitor Program, which is designed to reduce isolation.  Approximately 30 volunteers work one-on-one with 30 individuals. The volunteers are screened and trained quarterly on numerous subjects, including how to communicate effectively with individuals living with mental health disabilities, how to recognize the signs of mental illness and what resources are available.

According to Acton, "We match our volunteers to program participants according to personal interests and locale. Volunteers meet weekly with participants who have lost connection and communication with the outside world to engage them in various activities."

Similar to DRC, FREED collaborates with local mental health providers and works closely with the counties as well as community resources, such as Turning Point Providence Center and SPIRIT Peer Empowerment Center, to provide individuals with options for services as well as information and referral services.

"We are passionate about advocating for individuals," said Acton, "consequently, we make it a point to educate people about the realities of mental illness while staying informed about the various options available to ensure people living with mental health disabilities know someone is here to help them."

Nason summed it up nicely, "We let individuals know about all of the services in our communities and let them know they have options and choices. We are seen as advocates for individuals by making a difference in their lives, one small miracle at a time."

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

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)