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Protect Mental Health Employment Services

July 2017

Work is more than a paycheck. This is especially true for people struggling with mental illness and/or addiction.

At The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, we work with hundreds of adults and children with mental health challenges. People we support receive counseling and supportive services with a goal of independence in the future.

Sometimes they live at home with family. Sometimes they live in group homes, shelters or on the streets. Many have family members who are no longer in their lives. They struggle to get through the day, to manage day-to-day tasks most of us take for granted. Here at The Bridge, we see their challenges, hopes and goals – and we see them progress in their recovery.

And when the individuals we support decide the time is right, they often want to go back to work or school.

Our Supported Employment and Education (SEE) program is designed to help individuals with mental illness secure employment or education toward a career. The support takes into consideration the needs, strengths and availability of each person in the program.

"Our program is so valuable because it has the potential to make a huge impact on the lives of our individuals," says Amelia Dillon, SEE coordinator. "Employment and education lead to an improved quality of life, more independence, increased confidence and greater community inclusion."

Due to potential changes in the proposed model by the state, this valuable community program may be eliminated or significantly altered. Individuals will be encouraged to obtain employment and education services from other resources, such as a state agency. Although these programs meet the needs of some, others – especially the clients we serve today – may be better served by the personalized supports from a program that knows them well and sees them often. The new proposed model will potentially fragment these services, requiring individuals to work with multiple agencies to have these needs met. Fragmentation adds confusion for individuals; resulting in avoidance of a difficult process, even if it is to accomplish a cherished goal.

"We have smaller caseloads," says Dillon. "We know the people we work with."

One of the young men SEE currently supports is 27 years old. He speaks highly about the program, saying "There are different programs for different needs at The Bridge. Some need extra help. There are people who want to learn new skills and grow. And then there are people like me who want to contribute to the world and do something meaningful – we want a job. SEE has the skills and connections to help people, like me, who are in the programs and who want to move on. We want to be in control of our own lives."

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