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Not for Everyone

Programs help, but gaps still exist for people with mental health diagnoses

by Kendall Worth

This is part II of Kendall Worth's series of first-person accounts of social isolation as a person living in poverty, with a disability. Read part I here

Twenty per cent of people living in Nova Scotia live with a disability. According to the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, at least 50% of these people live in poverty and have a low quality of life. Some persons with disabilities feel socially isolated because of their current lifestyle.

A good portion of Nova Scotia’s people with disabilities lives in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Here, there are drop-in centres and social clubs accessible to low-income persons with all kinds of disabilities. Currently the focus seems to be to provide services and social opportunity for mental health consumers.

Over the past 10 to 15 years I have been involved in many organizations that provide programs and services for persons with disabilities of all types. Through my involvement with these organizations, I have gained knowledge of the exciting social clubs available to mental health consumers.

Connections Halifax and New Beginnings in Dartmouth offer a wide range of services and programs for mental health consumers with access 1 mental health diagnoses. Capital Health runs both programs.

For someone to become a client of these programs, they have to get a referral from their psychiatrist or another mental health professional they see on a regular basis.

An access 1 mental health disorder makes day-to-day living for that person difficult, plus it makes it near-impossible to function in society without psychiatric medications. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are two examples of access 1 mental health diagnoses. People who have an access 1 diagnosis find it difficult to hold down a job. This is the reason why they often cannot be employed full-time in the regular job market.

A general mental health diagnosis is one that a mental health consumer can control more easily in their day-to-day lives. These mental health consumers are able to cope with little support. My diagnosis is called impulse control disorder, and that is a general mental health diagnosis. I find that I am able to cope with little support.

Sharing & Caring Club in Halifax and the Among Friends Social Club in Dartmouth have less strict criteria to be involved; either a general diagnosis or an access 1 diagnosis is acceptable. However, you still have to be a mental health consumer to access those social programs, and two professional referrals are required for mental health consumers to have access to these social clubs.

I do not think it is fair that these programs distinguish between mental health diagnoses, because the way I look at this, a mental health diagnosis is a mental health diagnosis.

In a lot of cases, mental health problems are caused by addictions to illegal drugs and alcohol. Perhaps general society does not see mental health this way.

I sometimes wonder if the mental health system does not recognize all the mental health problems that are out there. There have been times that I have become frustrated with the system when I’ve tried to get help through it.

After moving to Dartmouth in 2002, I did some inquiring to find out where I could go to get help finding a job or volunteer work in the community. People advised me about the above programs. Aside from the mental health diagnosis criteria, I was disappointed that most didn’t provide a wide range of services.

New Beginnings is the first program I applied to. Like Connections Halifax, it provides help to those who want to get back into the workforce. They also have life skills workshops, cooking classes, and other educational opportunities.

But both turned me down because I do not have an access 1 mental health diagnosis.

Then I applied to the Sharing & Caring Club. I got accepted into this program; however after attending regularly I found that this program was not for me. Unlike Connections Halifax and New Beginnings, the Sharing & Caring Club is only a place for hanging out and socializing. I did not find this place offered any encouragement to have a structure in my day, and no encouragement to eventually return to work or get job training. Among Friends Social Club was the same thing and I wasn’t interested.

TEAM Work Cooperative, the WorkBridge Association and reachAbility have the opposite problem. Their main focus is employment and job training. Their offices have a computer lab and a resource room for their clients to use. They offer computer workshops and ones on employment-related topics.

They do not focus as much on the social needs of persons with disabilities who are living in poverty. Social skills are one of the biggest parts needed for holding down a job. There are persons with disabilities who find it difficult to become employable because they do not have social skills.

I was a client of TEAM Work Cooperative for some time. My experience with them was the best of all the programs I participated in. At the time I was trying to start my own business. They arranged for me to have one-on-one computer training with an instructor. They also referred me to the Entrepreneurs With Disabilities Network, which has helped me further in achieving my future goals. 

There are also a couple of employment readiness programs. Both Options Work Activity in Halifax and Solutions Learning Centre are open to persons with disabilities during the daytime. However they can only attend for a certain period of time within the run of year. For most persons who are socially isolated, this is not enough. I attended Solutions Learning Centre myself in 2004 and I found this program to have a negative environment.

From my experiences of knowing these current programs and services for persons with disabilities, plus from my experiences of being a part of the disability community, I find that there is a real need for persons with all types of disabilities to have those same social opportunities.

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