May 28, 2012

In My Opinion: A new focus for mental well-being


---- — The opening of Behavorial Health Services North’s Center for Well-Being at 2155 State Route 22B in Morrisonville on April 23 reflects the opening of a new chapter in the story of the treatment of mental illness now under way in our country.

Once banished to asylums and county poor houses in the 1800s, patients were committed to state hospitals in the 20th century. New York had almost 100,000 patients in the state hospital system in 1959, with some 25,000 in one hospital alone on Long Island.

In many ways, the hospital system became an alternative community where people with mental illness lived out their lives.

However, in the late 1950s, with the introduction of psychotropic medications, adults with a serious mental illness were beginning to be discharged in large numbers. The change was reflected in the passage the federal Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963, which governed and funded community services to be put in place to serve those discharged to community settings. The explicit expectation expressed to providers and to those discharged was to “remain stable in the community.”

The tragedy of deinstitutionalization has been very well documented. Many, if not most, ended up on city streets or in psychiatric ghetto-like SROs. The promised funding never followed the patients to their communities.

Additionally, there was an explicit belief that adults with a serious mental illness were disabled for life and could, at best, sit by on the sidelines of normative adult role expectations of work, family life and participation in community life.

We now have at hand possibly the best opportunities in generations to implement truly life-changing innovations in the treatment and rehabilitation of adults with a serious mental illness.

BHSN has been at the forefront with PROS and clinic services that promote and expect recovery from the debilitating impacts of mental illness.

Our Center for Well-Being’s focus on person-centered, holistic, integrated health and wellness recovery programming, implements a fundamental paradigm shift, to quote an accurate if overused phrase. Staff are now engaging patients as “partners in well-being.”

This partnering is more than our BHSN tag line. It reflects our approach as providers that we view consumers as collaborators and full participants in pursuit of their achievement of a full life.

The core work of the new center is nothing less than integrated behavioral health care, employment, education, health care and wellness, along with housing services with a full expectation for normative life activities and roles as identified by consumers themselves.

The quality and openness of the facility itself reflects our efforts to take mental illness “out of the closet” of stigma and marginalization.

I have the greatest confidence that our new center will be seen in our North Country community and by New York state as a major step forward in promoting the wellness and dignity of people challenged with mental illness in the North Country.

However, while we are on this cusp of a new day in mental-health services, the challenges of hard work, persistence, collaboration and support needed to realize these shared visions remain ahead of us.

Harry S. Cook is president and CEO of Behavorial Health Services North.