An effective approach for consumers/survivors
Reprinted from "Income" issue of Visions Journal, 2011, 7(2), p. 17
I feel so fortunate to be part of a community of mental health consumers/survivors. In my experience, we cleave together, are always happy to see each other and provide a wealth of personal support. It's within this close-knit community that I've been able to improve my financial situation.
Many mental health consumers/survivors are, I think, better off now than before we fell ill. The simple reason for this is that we are linked to the care system. This has resulted in better housing, better diet (with access to a dietitian) and access to such things as monthly income assistance, and grants and bursaries for education and training. There is also the Community Volunteer Supplement (CVS), which gives people on disability income a $100 honorarium for working at least 10 hours a month. People on CVS choose a placement where they can get job experience and develop skills.
Many communities have subsidized access to municipal services. In Richmond, where I live, consumers with permanent disability can apply to any community centre for a Recreation Access Card, which gives 50% off most drop-in activities in the city’s recreation facilities. The City of Richmond’s Diversity Services also publishes the seasonal Low Cost, No Cost Programs brochure, which lists activities and services that are free or less than $10.
In addition to the above benefits, consumers have a sounding board—the mental health care workers. They have the mental health care teams, which provide an abundance of programs. The Richmond Mental Health Team has, for instance, a crafts group, a quit-smoking group and a special work program. In the work program, clients receive an honourarium for working in community settings such as a community garden and a seniors centre.
The Richmond Consumer and Friends Society (RCFC) has a monthly activity calendar, which includes subsidized outings to, for example, Vancouver Canadians, baseball games, pitch and putt golf, Playland and movie theatres. There are also walking groups, evening dinner groups, ski outings and more.
Similarly, the Canadian Mental Health Association clubhouses and the Coast Mental Health centres have great amenities. Our Richmond CMHA branch clubhouse has a computer room, a dining room, counsellors, someone who provides housing assistance, and a work program that pays a minimum of $10 an hour, for 25 hours a month or more if wished.
Tune in to yourself and diversify
We are all worthy of doing work, having a career, holding a job, attending classes, taking part in activities, and living independently in our own home. A professional attitude results from taking responsibility and doing the activity of establishing oneself—financially. The by-products of a job are self-respect, greater self-confidence and strength of character, and increased politeness toward others.
The amount of money in our wallet directly correlates to the shape of the smile on our face—that is, if we have a smile at all. More importantly, how happy we are depends upon our financial security. Although I have a 'dream come true' wish list, I only need a few hundred dollars more than my monthly benefit cheque to be very content—what I, as a poor person, consider well off.
When I was first discharged from the hospital eight years ago, I had $65 a month spending money—the rest went to housing. As of this past March, I had worked up to $850 or $900 a month above my rent. It's not a sports car, but I've bought a lot of nice new things—and I have my dreams.
It has taken eight years for me to develop a variety of things I can do for work. These include carpet and apartment cleaning, putting in new patio gardens, helping people decorate their apartments, and shopping for people. Mainly I sell my paintings and drawings, as well as prints of them. And I'm currently planning to write a book.
I advise training—especially in something that will develop your skills in a career you would love and that use your God-given talents. I took stock of my natural skills and found they were in the visual arts and artisan field. I had completed art school, but that was 20 years ago. So I refreshed my skills by taking four 12-week courses in acrylic and watercolour painting techniques at a community centre.
Our country has good schools with six- to eight-week, three-month, one-year or longer job training programs. You can get help paying for these. There are many supports in the mental health system, as well as grants, bursaries and subsidies available. Talk to your care workers about these things—they are usually most informative and helpful. I was able to get financial assistance for my painting courses from the City of Richmond's Department of Cultural Services.
I also learned how to budget. Budgeting is an essential necessity for consumers/survivors who are on a low income. Budgeting is extremely simple and should be approached that way; it will become a natural thing to do.
I keep my life in order, on paper—this is my budget. Every two days I assess my purchases, my bank balance and my pocket cash. I plan my weekly spending to a minimum and keep to my plan. I'm opening an account at a second bank, and I'll put $10 or $20 or $5 into that account often, and I won't make a withdrawal. That will be money for when I'm old.
Believe in your value
I'm always making three-year and five-year plans of things to achieve and taking personal stock of myself on paper—and I never put myself down. I am only positive, I only speak the answer to a difficulty, and I never insult anyone—and I don't borrow or lend money. And I have people, my good friends, over for dinner or social time as often as possible, given our busy schedules.
If you take part in life and if you use what the care system offers, it will be very fulfilling for you and will bring you much enjoyment. If you can work two days a week, or even if it's for only 10 hours a month, that will be a wealth to you on top of your ministry income benefits. All these things put together will balance your lifestyle, which is recovery for the vast majority of consumers/survivors.
It does take an effort. Sometimes one is afraid—gets the "can't do it" type of cold feet. I started from that place after discharge from hospital eight years ago. I forced myself to get underway because I saw my life and I believed in my value as a person. It's important to ask your workers to help you figure out what you could do with your spare time. You should also ask them about what financial aid you could access, who can support you in your application, and who can help you to make an appeal if your first request is not accepted.
I believe in you. We all have a very great value. Let's develop it. Get established for happiness—yours and others.
About the author
David has been a volunteer at the West Coast Mental Health Network for five years. He is pursuing a career as an artist and recently ventured into writing. David states: "I hope to remain independent for the rest of my life. I enjoy hard work and the enterprise of self-employment."