What kind of missed opportunities have you seen?
Inspirational experiences and the opportunity for personal growth are not just for an individual. They occur for societies as well. They may be seized or they may be missed. We may miss the opportunity because we are not listening to our spirit guides or get lost in a societal fantasy.
Community Mental Health
We had an important opportunity in the 1960s with the advent of the community mental health movement. We set out to make mental health services more available to the population at large. It was an alluring opportunity and I decided to climb on board. I could not know how being one of the first people hired in one of the first programs would afford me such a window on the world and the possibilities. Of course, with my personality, possibilities were central to what I want.
I tell the full story of the experience in my book Whatever Happened to Community Mental Health which is available as a paperback on Amazon or on Kindle. I could not resist writing it for the record although the movement failed.
Awakening From the Haze of Education
When they took me to my office there were no patients to be seen because no one had been working to let anyone know we existed. In the next office was a black woman social worker by the name of Roz who became my mentor and who led me out onto the street. The long and short of it is that a group of twenty somethings went into Baltimore poverty and learned how to provide useful service. The biggest danger to the mental health of the residents turned out to be poverty itself. We found once we helped them solve problems and build community that the rate of anxiety and depression declined and with it vulnerability to more serious declines in mental and cognitive functioning.
The Establishment Opposition
But we had opposition to our work. In the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy I created opponents for the Tethyans called Overlords who were dedicated only to power and profit. In the first book, Gaia’s Majesty: Discovery just published on Amazon, we become acquainted with these people. In reality, in Baltimore, our young staff had to deal with our own form of Overlords. They were less dangerous but they were not dedicated to support what we were learning.
These Overlords were called the psychiatric establishment. Their status was enhanced by having landed a grant to support what was supposed to be groundbreaking mental health service delivery. Except their idea was to simply continue what they had been doing and to enhance their status. I thought I was the first psychologist hired but found someone had already been hired but worked in the hospital and never, ever gave service in the community. The powers that were wanted to continue to send in untrained medical students to see inner city residents and to have resident psychiatrists give medication and intensive psychotherapy.
They Need Help
The residents of the area did not need intensive psychotherapy or to be seen by untrained people. They needed help to resolve health problems with their children, help to negotiate with agencies, job training, support for their adolescent children in crisis and on and on. So our young staff dug in our heals and, in response to the demands of our Overlords, said, “Not right now. We’ll get back to you.”
And so we built a viable and very useful service system and even got community people hired for jobs they could usefully do. But then the early dedicated young people inevitably moved on and the Overlords seized the opportunity to close the community offices, draw everything back into a central building and bring back the medical students and psychiatric residents.
Will There Ever Be An Enduring Reform Movement?
We lost the lessons learned. And now, with the airing of national problems, people are wondering why we have so many mental health problems and a system which really does not make itself available for many people. A half billion dollars is to be made available for mental health services and I have to wonder to what end and how it will be used.
And so we saw personal and professional agendas take precedence over the reality of how we might have ameliorated suffering and help build a future for the poor. It was a clash of values and realities.
Do you believe we will do better any time soon?