Mental health program sets recovery in motion
By: David Sarchet
Originally posted via News-Press.com, here

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The recent The News-Press editorial “Suicide Crisis Needs Solutions” concludes with: “We need to give (those dealing with depression and other mental illnesses) hope.”

I’m moved to write about a unique program inSouthwest Florida that has quietly been developing since 2005 because that’s the word used more than any other by its members: hope. The program is called Florida Self-Directed Care (FloridaSDC) and it’s operated by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illnesses) of Collier County.

FloridaSDC is a vehicle for eligible individuals to use public funds to arrange their own mental health care so as to address the disabling aspects of their mental illnesses and begin or return to a productive lifestyle, which is defined as working or volunteering, or training to be able to do work or volunteer.

FloridaSDC is based on the understanding that recovery from serious mental illnesses is a reality.  Recovery is about overcoming the adverse effects of mental illnesses that may have hampered the ability to fulfill personal life goals.  If hope is thought of as confidence in the future, then acknowledging that recovery is possible, and seeing and meeting with people in recovery is crucial to having hope.

Next, the FloridaSDC program hinges on the belief that individuals are capable of choosing services and making purchases that will help them begin and remain on the road to recovery.  This runs counter to the common belief that what services a person needs and how long they need them are decisions best made by experts.

Public mental health dollars are for the most part channeled through community mental health centers, and clients of little means receive their services there.  In FloridaSDC, members access the same average amount of dollars and see whatever service provider they choose.  Many SDC members use services at community mental health centers, many do not.  The point is in FloridaSDC there is choice.

SDC members also use funds to access alternative or complimentary activities in the community that serve therapeutic purposes.  The SDC member and their chosen provider(s) confer about the best strategies to achieve therapy goals.  It may be that a yoga class, joining a gym, taking music lessons, or acupuncture (to name just a few) is the best way to make recovery gains.  In a recent satisfaction survey, all program members who used complimentary services rated them as having been helpful.

Once members arrange their mental health care to their liking, attention is turned to productivity goals. There’s room in the budget for goods and services that help members get back to work, either for pay or as volunteers.  This may include training, clothes, work tools, computers or transportation (or many other things) depending on the person’s goal(s) and particular needs.  Basic dental, vision and hearing services also often play a very important role in members’ recovery plans.

Using tax dollars in all these ways may challenge another common, and pretty stubborn, belief: Don’t give money to people in poverty, because they’ll come to depend on it and not use it to better themselves.  There’s no denying poverty is a powerful force, and there’s a natural tendency to use any extra money to simply get by. This, after all, eases stress and supports good mental health.

In FloridaSDC, responsibility and accountability are core values.  Coaches assist members in the technical aspects of establishing goals in specific, measurable and time-limited terms, and to work within a budget to identify needed purchases.  They then become accountability partners along the way to members’ important and lasting life changes.

Many people with serious mental illnesses are not ready for the responsibility and accountability FloridaSDC demands.  For some it is something to work towards, a sort of light at the end of the tunnel on the continuum of mental health services.  Many are ready now, though – and the fact that we have a unique mental health program like this in our own back yard is something to celebrate.  The first program of its kind started in Jacksonville in 2002.  There are now a handful of similar programs in other states, a formal research study is underway at Boston College, and Self-Directed Care has become of special interest to the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership.

If you, or someone you know is interested in finding out more about FloridaSDC, call 239-936-4318 for more information about the program benefits and eligibility requirements.  As one SDC member put it: “Having hope is new to me. Now I’m saying maybe someday instead of never.”

David Sarchet is a licensed mental health counselor who is the Program Director for FloridaSDC in Southwest Florida, serving Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Gladescounties.

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Originally posted via News-Press.com, here