All but two Counterpoint readers who responded to the winter issue’s poll expressed a belief that improving mental health workers’ pay would lead to better experiences for mental health consumers. The question aimed to discover psychiatric survivors’ attitudes toward the pleas of a reportedly overburdened, underpaid workforce that, however, has also caused harm to them.

Five of the 15 respondents submitted comments. Among these, opinion was more evenly mixed. One averred that better pay would not fix the “sanist” perspectives of mainstream mental health professionals, who “don’t meet the needs of real people.” Another skeptic cautioned against giving additional dollars to traditional psychiatry:

– “I think this really depends on how we’re defining ‘mental health workers.’ However, if talking about the traditional medical-model workers, if we want to improve the quality of healthcare, wages is not the place to start. Instead, the harm that’s being caused by these institutions and workers needs to be addressed. Education on alternative practices is needed in these spaces, but ultimately the investment of funds should be going into programs that support people through harm reduction, consent, and mutuality – peer respites, peer support, and peer-run/led entities. Our resources should be investing in making space for folks to build their own narratives, make their own meaning, and connect in authentic relationships. Not higher wages for ‘problem-fixing’ mental health care workers.”

Three others theorized that consumers would see at least some modest trickle-down benefits from higher salaries in the mental health field and, presumably, better employee retention within community mental health centers:

– “Raising wages alone will not change systemic problems in our mental health system, but it can alleviate some downstream effects, such as high turnover, low morale, and worker exhaustion due to having to work multiple jobs to survive, hence not being fully available mentally, physically and emotionally when working in mental health systems. It should be accompanied by more robust education for mental health workers about the harms that the mental health system often inflicts, and what they can do about it.”

– “I briefly worked at mental health facilities and programs and met some people who were barely qualified to work with clients. The low wages of workers at designated agencies are appalling.”

– “Increasing wages alone will not improve mental healthcare for consumers but nonetheless is one necessary step in ensuring that a well trained, compassionate, sustainable workforce exists.”

The summer poll asks, “Does Vermont need a new youth inpatient psychiatric unit in Bennington?”

In February, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center sent an application for a Certificate of Need to the Green Mountain Care Board. The hospital plans to spend $9.5 million on 12 new beds, but the Brattleboro Retreat, which currently operates Vermont’s only inpatient psychiatric unit for adolescents, has called the project’s necessity into question, as has Disability Rights Vermont.

As usual, Counterpoint wants to know what you think.

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