Friday, 12 March 2010

Access to Mainstream

Access to Mainstream

In a recent editorial, Big Issue magazine founder John Bird states that the purpose of the Big Issue is to enable homeless people to access the marketplace. 

For a homeless person, becoming a Big Issue salesperson creates a position in the marketplace, perhaps for the first time. 

John Bird's explanation of the rationale behind the Big Issue is analagous to the reasons for exclusion from mainstream experienced by many people with mental health conditions. 

As a person who has not only experienced homelessness but who is also a businessman, Bird's prioritises the activities of selling and distribution.  These are methods through which a homeless person can access mainstream.  Bird doesn't discuss breaking down barriers, addressing stigma or seeking support.  He is keen to stress that the purpose of purchasing a Big Issue is not to give charity or even sympathy. The purpose is commercial empowerment for the individual salesperson.

For people with severe and enduring mental health conditions, a similar disempowering process has taken place which not only denies access to the marketplace but to any kind of mainstream opportunity. Sometimes the process has taken place over many years.

A Big Issue seller is a valued salesperson on the basis of their motivation.  He or she becomes a sole trader or franchisee under an umbrella organisation.

For someone with a 'severe and enduring' diagnosis the journey into or back into what Pat Deegan calls a 'valued social role' can be impaired by the same system which has organised support.  Access to mainstream can be discouraged by years of grounding in the process that Deegan calls 'a career in mental health'.

A career in mental health can mean a life on benefits, a life in residential support, a life of incapacity, a career of inertia.  For people with mental health conditions it can be their clinical diagnosis which become the key determinant of  identity.  Yet the factors which determine an active social role for someone with a mental health condition are no different from anyone else's. Our identities are determined by the things we are passionate about, our aspirations, our goals, our dreams and our key priorities.

Meaningful involvement in mainstream for people with a mental health diagnosis begins to take place when individuals are allowed to measure themselves in terms of  their goals. The world of mainstream does not necessarily discriminate or stigmatise and even where it does, this may not be the main obstacle.

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