Adults with Mental Illness Require More Support

On October 12, 2020, Executive Director Ellen O'Connor shared the need for support of adults with serious mental illness in the community in the Orlando Sentinel Opinion section.


Adults with mental illness require more support

By Ellen O’Connor

The first week of October was national Mental Illness Awareness Week. As influential people have started to speak out about their challenges with mental health, the stigma associated with mental illness is decreasing.

However, as a society, we have not adequately addressed the essential supportive services needed to allow adults with serious mental illness (SMI) to live a healthy, productive, and independent life as contributing members of our community. The burden falls on family members or caregivers to navigate the limited resources available to help them.

More commonly, those who have SMI lack family support, and the SMI is undiagnosed or untreated, leading the individual on a path toward homelessness.

In Central Florida, over 2,000 adults are homeless and over 17% of those homeless adults have serious mental illness. The effects of homelessness can amplify symptoms of poor mental health. In a national measure of access to mental health care that includes access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, and workforce availability, Florida ranks 49th in total spending on services for the mentally ill.

In my work with Dave’s House, I see the impacts this lack of support has on men and women with SMI and the community. Since 2008, we have worked to end homelessness for men and women with serious mental illness by developing permanent supportive housing.

Overall research shows that individuals with SMI demonstrate stability and have the life skills to live independently with support, typically succeeding in a single-family home setting. Often, residents form a modern family, developing friendships that generally elude people with SMI, who often live in isolation because of their illness. They look out for one another, share housekeeping responsibilities, and socialize together. As we all know, having a place to call home provides a sense of family, community, and stability.

As a community, we are bracing for a surge in the demands for mental health services because of the aftereffects of COVID-19. Now is the time for a community collaborative to address the unique needs of the seriously mentally ill. Early mental-health intervention and treatment will not only save hospital and law enforcement resources, but it will also save lives and ensure that those individuals thrive.

Central Florida has the opportunity to step up and lead the nation in addressing solutions for serious mental illness with a collective vision of quality, care and resources.

Dave’s House is moving forward with initiatives to address the issues facing homeless men and women with serious mental illness; I encourage other interested community groups to join us.

Ellen O’Connor is the director of Dave’s House, which provides permanent supportive housing for those with mental illness. Dave’s House founders Ron and Lin Wilensky were 2019 Central Floridian of the Year nominees.