CBCS News

Destination Dignity: The Importance of Dignity and Rights for Persons with Mental Illnesses

Destination DignityAugust 24 is the beginning of the Dignity March, a campaign by Mental Health America to bring attention to the stigma, shame and discrimination experienced daily by persons with mental illnesses.  On any given day in the United States, 1 in every 5 persons, more than 60 million Americans, will experience mental illnesses and substance use conditions. 

Persons with mental illnesses and substance use conditions are more socially isolated, are more likely to have more severe levels of physical and mental disabilities, and are more likely to experience premature death and much higher rates of suicide. They are affected by the chronic underfunding of numerous services, such as health, employment, education, and housing.  Instead of receiving compassion and appropriate services, persons with mental illnesses and substance use conditions are negatively portrayed and scapegoated in the popular and news media.

We, at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI), have worked tirelessly since our inception in 1973, to reduce the pernicious effects of the stigma, shame, and discrimination of and towards persons with mental illnesses and substance use conditions.  Established by the Florida legislature in 1967, the Institute is recognized as Florida's premier research and training center for behavioral health services and is a recognized national leader. Our mission is to improve the lives of people with mental, addictive, and developmental disorders through research, training, and education.

We have documented the problems with a fragmented “fail-first” system that is chronically underfunded and contributes to the premature morbidity and mortality in persons with mental illnesses. We have shown that the criminalization of mental illnesses and substance use result in an overcrowded criminal justice system that is a “revolving door” of incarceration and homelessness, not rehabilitation and reintegration into society. We know that recovery is a workable, achievable, and sustainable paradigm for treatment, for system delivery, and in policy.

However, we have also shown there is hope that persons with mental illnesses and substance use conditions can lead productive and happier lives. Our work with the Office of the Surgeon General and the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health reinforces that mental illnesses and substance use conditions can be effectively treated. Our work with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has shown the success of the expansion and delivery of integrated physical health and behavioral health services to the citizens of Florida. We have shown the importance of community based treatment in helping individuals remain within their communities and reduce civil commitments. We have shown that specialty courts that divert persons out of the criminal justice system into treatment are effective and reduce recidivism. 

We support Mental Health America and their partners in their Destination Dignity March  to help create a national agenda and an integrated approach to the complex issues involved in creating a coherent services delivery system for persons with mental illnesses and substance use conditions. We ask that you take a moment to reflect on the impact of mental illnesses and substance abuse conditions among family, friends, and colleagues, and join with us and Mental Health America to call for a nation where everyone who faces the challenges of mental illnesses and substance use conditions receives the right kinds of supports when they need it and are valued for the unique individuals they are.

For more about Mental Health America’s Destination Dignity initiative. For more about FMHI and its research, training, and education programs, see its website.

The College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida enrolls nearly 2,200 students and includes the Departments of Child and Family Studies, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Criminology, Mental Health Law and Policy, and Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling as well as the School of Aging Studies and School of Social Work.  The Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI), in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, was created over 30 years ago by the Florida Legislature to expand our knowledge about how best to serve the mental health needs of Florida's citizens.