Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Series on Mental Illness

This week, the Post-Gazette is running a series by the excellent Joe Smydo about the impact of the closure of Mayview State Hospital on people living with mental illness in this region.

A special five-part series

Sunday, Sept. 22:
Overview and portrait of former Mayview State Hospital patients.
Monday, Sept. 23:
Community hospitals struggle with mental-health caseloads.
Tuesday. Sept. 24:
Police, courts improvise to manage ill offenders
Wednesday. Sept. 25:
Housing a weak link in mental-health system
Sunday, Sept. 29:
The future of mental-health treatmentThe most significant issue from the series (thus far) is the fact that the closure of Mayview was NOT followed up by the necessary level of investment in community resources – both mental health services and supports for people living in poverty. The intent may be good – to give people dignity and the benefits of being part of a community rather than in a hospital setting – but the failure of the state to ensure they have resources is monumental.

There aren’t enough services.

  • There is a shortage of psychiatrists (and many who don’t accept insurance believe it or not.)
  • There is not enough affordable housing period and not enough “supported” housing with staff or supervision necessary to help residents survive day to day.
  • There is not enough access to healthcare.
  • There are not enough employment opportunities, recreational or “day” programs, or affordable community activities to engage and integrate someone on a limited income.

And there is perhaps the most injurious factor of all – stigma. Stigma about mental illness, poverty, and addiction.  If you read the stories closely, you’ll see that the folks who do survive or flourish do so by the kindness of others – by charity – including their family and strangers. The landlord who was willing to wait for a security deposit. The brother who visited regularly. The church who launches a ministry. These are the resources most likely to address stigma and create advocates for more resources, but they too are few and far between.

In the LGBTQ community? Yes, there is an increased risk for mental illness, but also a significant level of stigma. I can’t begin to enumerate the times I’ve heard women (lesbians in particular) say things like “I don’t date bipolar women” or remarks about drama which is code for mental illness. The newest “trend” seems to be diagnosing people with Axis II illnesses – especially personality disorders. I think we can thank reality television shows for that trend, especially the fondness for declaring people are narcissistic as a disorder rather than a simple character trait. That’s purely anecdotal observation. I suspect the high prevalence of mental health disorders (especially those who are’t in treatment) combined with the very real toll it can take on family and friends contributes to this somewhat cruel attitude. Couple in the general societal stigma about the LGBTQ community, the rates of poverty and the lack of family support and it is a real challenge.

Pittsburgh is fortunate to have Persad Center, the second oldest LGBT mental health provider in the nation. We also have a lot of LGBT friendly therapists. And Persad work with the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh to provide on-site mental health services for youth. I’m less certain about the LGBTQ cultural competency of the front line providers – the psychiatrists, the housing providers, the employment specialists, etc.

That being said, it is certainly in our best interest to advocate for more resources for everyone living with mental illness. And to read this series in the Post-Gazette. The more informed we all are, the better off we are.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, please consider these resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  •  The Trevor Project 1-866-488-7386
  • Persad Center 1-888-873-7723

Personally, I believe this song “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay captures part of the essence of being inside a mental health crisis both in terms of the music and the lyrics. What do you think?

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