Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Making Public Mental-Health Services Accessible to Deaf Consumers: Illinois Deaf Services 2000

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Making Public Mental-Health Services Accessible to Deaf Consumers: Illinois Deaf Services 2000

Article excerpt

ILLINOIS DEAF SERVICES 2000 (IDS2000), a public/private partnership, promotes the creation and implementation of strategies to develop and increase access to mental health services for deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and deaf-blind consumers. IDS2000 has resulted in the establishment of service accessibility standards, a technical support and adherence monitoring system, and the beginnings of a statewide telepsychiatry service. These system modifications have resulted in increase by 60% from baseline survey data in the number of deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and deaf-blind consumers identified in community mental-health agencies in Illinois. Depending on the situation of deaf services staff and infrastructure, much of IDS2000 could be replicated in other states in a mostly budget-neutral manner.

The availability of community-based treatment services in the United States has increased dramatically over the past 40 years through the development of the community mental-health center system. However, the evolution of this system of care has largely been haphazard and reactive, with little coordinated planning or consistent vision (Brooks, 1988).

People who are deaf and suffer from mental illness have not been spared the consequences of a fragmented mental-health service system. In a presentation in 1998 at the First World Conference on Mental Health and Deafness, Bernard Arons, then director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, declared, "America is decades behind where it should be in providing public mental health services to Deaf people. Some states have no such services for them at all" (Brauer, Marcus, & Morton, 1999, panel discussion 1, para. 6).

The combined effect of a generally "user-unfriendly" system of mental-health service delivery coupled with the historical stigmatisation of deaf people by society at large (Atcherson, 2002; Becker, 1981; DeVinney & Murphy, 2002; Hetu, 1996; Higgins, 1980) has created a generally disinterested, even hostile treatment environment when viewed from the perspective of individuals or stakeholder groups advocating for deaf services.

Historically in Illinois, as in most states, the mental health needs of people who are deaf have not been prioritized within the public mental-health system. A primary reason is that individuals with hearing loss who rely primarily on visual rather than auditory input to communicate with others and whose hearing loss occurred in childhood rather than later in life are a relatively small group, constituting less that 1% of the general population (National Health Interview Survey, 1994), and thus do not make up a significant portion of those individuals seeking access to public mental-health services. A second reason for the low priority given to the mental health needs of people who are deaf stems from the very nature of hearing disabilities and the accommodations they require for effective communication. In the absence of appropriate accommodations, people with hearing impairments are far more reticent about seeking access to services, particularly those that focus on mental health problems, which carry an added social stigma. As a result, deaf consumers have not placed great service demands on the system. A third reason for this low priority is that whereas consumer and family advocacy has become a driving force in much mental-health reform (Onken & Dumont, 2002), the Deaf community has taken longer than other groups to mobilize around this issue into a cohesive, politically powerful advocacy group (Critchfield, 2002).

A Brief History of Mental Health Advocacy on Behalf of People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Illinois

In Illinois, advocacy efforts began slowly more than 30 years ago with the formation of a citizens' committee aimed at obtaining "adequate mental health services for deaf people" (S. P. Quigley, personal communication, April 3, 1973). …

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