Citizenship and Mental Health

Since the 1960s, social inclusion and community integration have been core promises of U.S. community mental health. However, these promises have been difficult to deliver on for complex and varied reasons including discrimination, poverty, and fragmented social and health care systems.

In the mental health field, the idea of citizenship–a sense of belonging to one’s community and society that is validated by others–started in the practice of traditional outreach. There, we discovered that, while outreach teams can help their clients gain access to mental health treatment, primary health care, income (by helping them apply for disability entitlement programs), jobs, and permanent housing, they could not help them (re)gain the status of neighbors, community members, and citizens.

We have been doing and studying citizenship work with and for people with mental illnesses, including those with experiences of homelessness, substance addictions, and incarceration, since the late 1990s. We started in New Haven, Connecticut, and much of our work continues to take place here. We are now expanding our citizenship work and interventions to other locations in Connecticut (Connecticut Valley Hospital), Pennsylvania (county jails and prisons), and outside the U.S. in Quebec, Scotland, Spain, and New Zealand.