“Mental Health Care in most of this country is a bitter joke”.
A direct quote from an article in the December 2014 Psychology Today periodical.
OK, lets get started with the obvious – the poor quality of the field is a topic of much discussion and much disappointment. Many problems exist, to be sure; but not all these problems are going to be solved by a fancy new subsidized program [to many peoples’ chagrin].
Let’s take a look at one of the often overlooked cancers of the field – its weak infrastructure. Most notably, employee retention. Employee retention in the Mental Health field is chronically low; seniority is a shocking two years.
I have sat and listened as my clients receiving services in both in-patient and out-patient settings commented daily on how the roll-over of case managers, social workers, and psychiatrists is – for the lack of a better way of putting it – maddening . For a population of people who are battling daily with a turbulent mind, the one thing the Mental Health field should be able to offer is Stability.
But it cannot.
NO one views social services as a career. It is a “job”. A low-paying-I-could-make-more-waiting-tables-job.
The term “burn out” is discussed in the New Hire Training.
Staff to client ratios are notoriously “off” to put it nicely, which does neither party any good. The staff desperately try to keep up with documentation while remaining present in the moment with their clients. Meanwhile, thoughts of not making productivity quotas and glances at the clock as the minutes whoosh away before they must, inevitably, be on the other side of town tending to the all-too-frequent Crisis Call, cripple staff ability for positive and lasting intervention with those struggling.
Among other things, a day in the life of a Mental Health worker is filled with assisting someone into a Detox program, calling CPS, watching children taken from the home, de-escalating homicidal and suicidal ideations, teaching coping skills to trauma victims, and conducting safety checks in residences to reduce accidental death by fire or the like.
At the end of a two week cycle of these days, there is a direct deposit that barely covers the bills [the average mental health case manager makes $17.00/hr WITH a Master’s degree and $15.00 with a Bachelor’s and some experience].
And, after the end of a year of these two week cycles, there are no Holiday bonuses to look forward to and no merit-based raises. Sometimes managers don’t even have time to do annual evaluations – and – what’s the point – whether you do well or not, it doesn’t impact your pay.
With financial incentives long-extinct in this field, it must rely on the do-gooders heart and soul to prevail day after day. And for a lot of folks, it does, up to a point. For I have seen even the strongest flame of altruism fade under these working conditions, watching as the Helpers become those needing Help. In those moments, consider asking – if the people in the positions to allocate more money in this field had worked in the field themselves, and experienced firsthand not only the infamous ‘burnout’ but also witnessed firsthand the gross waste of resources [programs gone unused, activities and groups never attended, taxi cab services wantonly turned away – all of which sound great on paper to lobbyists and laypeople but in fact waste millions each year] …maybe, just maybe, they would wake up and realize that the money would be better spent if allocated towards the existing employees who pour themselves in to the lives of others every day and worked to re-ignite a spirit of retention and respect in the field that has long since gone by the wayside and in fact become the “bitter joke” so aptly referenced.
Once we conquer that, we should probably look at addressing the wanton misuse of diagnoses for unnecessary services, the over-medicated clientele, and the fact that in our efforts to de-stigmatize the mentally ill, we have created a sub-culture of dependency and labels…
Question everything my fellow Mis[ter]fits,
As always, I welcome comments: scathing, supportive, or otherwise,
Leave your thoughts below or email direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until Next Time,