story by Claire Miller
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20 percent of Americans had a diagnosable mental health condition in 2018 and about 4.2 percent of adults – close to 10.4 million Americans – live with a severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI), such as bipolar disorder, major depression and/or schizophrenia, among others.
These statistics demonstrate the importance of quality mental health care – a subject that Dean’s Doctoral Fellow Cassandra Hinger explored in an article published in Psychological Services.
Her paper focused on social justice advocacy, or the ways psychologists can promote policies and practices that give disadvantaged groups the tools and support they need to improve their lives.
Hinger and her co-authors recommend a series of changes that can be made at the individual, community and public policy levels that could prove beneficial to those struggling with mental health.
“Psychologists have an ethical responsibility to advocate for the consumer and the public in the areas of health, access to services and overall well-being,” they wrote. “Advocacy is important in that it can give a voice to those who may be unable to protect themselves, mobilize communities for a cause, improve public services and hold elected officials accountable.”
At the individual level, psychologists can take into consideration a client’s personal and community relationships when recommending treatment, and those who have benefited from mental health care services can take on staff and leadership roles in hospitals to help inform clinicians on how best to care for their community members.
The authors also recommend that universities incorporate social justice advocacy into their clinical psychology curriculum and community health centers work with local residents and staff to ensure their outreach efforts are effective for people with severe and persistent mental disorders.
Beyond the individual and community-level responses, psychologists can use their experiences in the health care field to shape legislation and direct resources to better equip first responders, such as police and crisis management teams, to recognize and appropriately intervene with individuals experiencing SPMI. Individuals with SPMI are at a greater risk of homelessness and incarceration which lead to a greater risk of victimization for this vulnerable population. The authors provide suggestions for addressing the links between mental health, homelessness and incarceration.
“Creating treatment plans that connect individuals with behavioral health services decreases the pattern of returning to jail in addition to establishing a platform advocating for decriminalizing mental health behaviors, such as substance abuse, that are better served by rehabilitation centers than through incarceration,” the authors wrote.
Article citation: Lee, E., Hinger, C., Popovic, R., Miller, T., and Prempeh, L., (2019). “Social justice advocacy in mental health services: Policy, consumer and community perspectives.” Psychological Services.