People suffering with mental illness are among the most stigmatized, discriminated against, marginalized, disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society. Although much has been done in recent years to improve the status quo, it is evident that a great deal more needs to be done to improve the moral standing of and to achieve social justice for the mentally ill. On most days of the week I accompany people who experience stigma of difference because they have a mental illness. Until these discriminatory behaviours and perceptions are overturned, the rights of the mentally unwell will continue to be marginalized, invalidated, violated and/or ignored.
80% of those seeking support from our service have a dual diagnosis, that is they have one or more diagnoses. Our clients have substance abuse as one and generally mental illness or a physical or cognitive disability as the other diagnosis. Until recently there has been little tolerance for the simultaneous treatment of both disorders (something our service specialises in). The inability and inflexibility of most health services to provide treatment to clients with drug and alcohol related issues as well as presenting with mental health issues has become an issue that contravenes the human rights of people with mental illness.
As this post relates to the mental part of the diagnosis I will speak to the concerns I have for my clients. People with a psychiatric disability are often denied access to vocational and educational training; exposed to inflexible work conditions; experience negative attitudes and stigma from employers who often have unrealistic expectations of their capabilities. Surviving in this environment leads to a lack of self-responsibility and self worth. How does a person secure appropriate housing in the absence of an adequate income? As an aside there is such a lack of affordable housing in the area in which I work that many are forced to seek housing in the private sector.
Because of mental illness and the way in which they present (unkempt, dishevelled and experiencing side-effects of medication) sufferers are often refused rooms in the most basic accommodation that is boarding houses. Some boarding house owners have taken advantage of vulnerable people and exploited them by not maintain the accommodation to, sometimes, the most basic of acceptable standards. At present I meet with a number of people who are presently homeless because they have been passed over for private rental. They were too unwell to maintain the hectic schedule of welfare-driven appointments and are now labelled as ‘non-compliant’ by the system that was designed to be their safety net.
The few refuges available have waiting lists!
Shame, shame, shame on us!
Other clients become too unwell to attend job-seeking appointments which are recorded as a ‘breach’ of the conditions of their social welfare payment. Having breached the terms of their entitlement they are forced to live for weeks on a drastically reduced income. For those experiencing mental illness the system is punitive, cruel and discriminatory.
As long as people with mental illness struggle to live, work and participate in the community to the full extent of their capabilities their human rights will continue to be compromised by a lack of available community based services and care options.