My younger brother was in a mental hospital in his teens and it was a traumatic experience for both of us. And yet I can understand why people work in them. One of the workers I spoke with at the hospital where I work said she make over $19 per hour. That would come out to over $40,000. For me I’m working there to help pay off my student loan. Keep in mind that Milwaukee is in the middle of an effort to shrink the size of its mental hospital and work towards taking care of people in neighborhood based facilities.
One reason is to reduce the cost. On top of those psychiatrists, social workers, and CNAs, there are those administrators. And we know that they don’t work for $40,000. And yet, when I heard that my former supervisor’s new agency was now operating the Office of Consumer Affairs at the Mental Health Complex, I jumped at the chance to worker with her again. Workers, including peer specialists, deserve a chance at decent wages. And yes, I did mention that student loan. I want an opportunity to have a decent credit rating enjoy some of the creature comforts of regular working class people.
At the same time, many of the people out on those wards at the hospital are people I have assisted at community programs. We have a relationship. They will say to themselves: yes, here’s Kenyatta, I trust him. Let’s talk. I’m not there to restrain anyone or place them in seclusion. I am there to help them on their recovery and to avoid seeing me out there again. However, if that happens again, we will still assist them.
I am still dealing with the irony of working in the mental hospital. I just added one more night per week to my schedule. At a time when the mental health system is attempting to downsize and eliminate one of the wards, I am finding ways to be there more often. This might seem counter intuitive to some in the mental health survivor movement. However I have found that the vast majority of the people I have seen on the ward where I work seem like good candidates for discharge. Indeed many of them were there for only brief visits.
One man has been a repeat visitor in my short time working. One of the most ironic things I have found is that for any white persons who experience difficulty respecting the authority of African-American case managers, being surrounded by so many black workers with that much more power over them must be a real treat.